Monday, September 21, 2009

Being the White, Blonde Minority

I moved onto Stanford University's campus two weeks before classes started (today), and over a week before the undergrads overran the place.

In the spirit of "back to school", I went to "speed friending", an activity set up by grad student activity coordinators. Hundreds of new grad students met in a room filled with chairs in rows facing each other. Every three minutes, a whistle was blown, the person in front of me moved over, and was replaced with the person to his left.

I met about 10 people before the session came to a close, then we all met in a less formal social environment in the quad outside, where alcohol was being served to lessen the pain of smiling for hours on end, and repeating "core facts" about ourselves over and over again: Where do you live on campus? What are you studying? How long is your program?

I made two very important social observations early on: I was in probably a 3% white minority, a 1% female minority, and I was the only blonde.

What conclusions can I draw from these observations? Almost everyone I met was an engineer. That was to be expected as it's the largest graduate division on campus. But only one of them was a female, only a handful were white, and none of them were blonde.

The only other white females I met, actually (save for one), were in my communications program.

Does this mean that white people suck at engineering? Or that they all simply weren't brilliant enough to get into a top engineering grad school? Or does it simply mean that of all of the new engineers, a group of people stereotyped as socially awkward, the Indian and Asians and dudes are the most social? Is it true that bleach kills brain cells, and therefore a statistically insignificant number of blondes have been admitted to any Stanford graduate program this year?

It was an interesting phenomenon to be the minority for once. I didn't mind, but I did feel like I stuck out, particularly having just moved from Southern California, where 99% of the beachfront population is blond and white. (All percentages in this observational post have been entirely made up by the author.)

Having just read Schrag's Paradise Lost, about how California's social infrastructure had gotten so immensely clusterf***ed by the time he published the book in 1998, I was accutely aware that at some point, whites are going to be the minority, not just in California, but in the entire United States. I didn't think the change would manifest itself while I was still in my twenties. Is Stanford a forward-thinking microcosm of what California is to become?

By the time the undergrads arrived on campus, my status as an endangered species as a white blonde chick were annhilated. And what does that imply? That the majority of smart kids worthy of full-scholarship PhD study are not white, but the majority of paying students at this private university are?

Oh, what a social experiment University is!


  1. I know exactly what you mean. As a white female (although not blonde!) in an honors engineering program (undergrad) in Toronto, I was DEFINITELY in a very small minority. In the professional engineering world I still seem to be too. A lot of the time I felt like I was in a foreign country too since there would be so many foreign language conversations going on around me. It took a while to adjust and get used to that!

  2. Way to represent the ladies! :)