PALANA Revisited

Last year, I posted on my acceptance to live in PALANA, the intercultural academic interest house on campus at Middlebury  College. I wrote on my application on the premise that, “I do not believe an intercultural house should exist.”

Last night, a friend and fellow PALANA resident asked me if I still felt that an intercultural house should not exist. I thought about it again and I realize that yes, I still do think that way. But over the past year, living here, my thoughts on the issue have been challenged many times.

I have come to the conclusion that an intercultural house is less about “diversity” than it is about sticking a bunch of very different people together and proving that they can coexist. That sounds ridiculous. This is not MTV and we’re not on “The Real World.” But I think it is so important a college campus have a social experiment that shows that, while you can never force people to be best friends with someone from a different background, you can allow for an environment of greater understanding and discussion.

As PALANA changes considerably next year (moving to a new house, a new name, new academic center, national search for a director of the center), I think that PALANA’s role is no longer to be the safe-haven for “diversity kids.” No, the purpose is really for motivated individuals on this campus to really work to integrate themselves into the college community and promote change on campus.

Here are some of the other questions that came from an amazing discussion last night with a few of my house-mates:

  • Should admissions/admin be trying to recruit more (quantity) diverse students? Or should admissions be focused on bringing quality students of any background that know very well that they will be challenged on a particularly not-diverse campus? What’s the risk involved?
  • Is there a problem of integration on campus? One thing to talk about having a diverse student population. It’s another thing to talk about having an integrated student population.
  • Why do student cultural organizations on campus want to work together? If the religious communities on campus can come together, why can’t the cultural community come together? Should there be such things as a cultural community?
  • What does educational programming mean in a cultural context?
  • Can we blame the administration? Or do we have to blame ourselves for not creating an integrated community?