The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Rohan Menezes '23 RGLP Reflection

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What does it mean to be multicultural or culturally ambiguous? I represent a particularly easy-to-notice example of this phenomenon, having been born and brought up by liberal westernized parents but in India attending a conservative Indian school. I am a hodgepodge of cultural identities, with an American accent and values, but the American knowledge of a recent immigrant and a conversely strong cultural understanding of the South Asian context.

Having grown up used to code-switching, it’s basically second nature to me now, to the point I learn to adapt to different cultural circumstances fairly easily. Changing one’s perspective, sometimes multiple times a day, is less a planned experience than a skill. Furthermore, this shift is only really useful when it becomes subconscious, to the point where you don’t even notice it anymore.

How does it start? Assume you know nothing. That’s my “secret”, if you can call it that. When you hear someone’s viewpoint on issues, even one you disagree with, don't assume they believe it because of the simplest explanation, because that explanation is rarely right. Interrogate it instead, ask “why” questions and/or do research. Seek to understand, don’t jump to judge.

That’s a perspective I’ve held throughout my life, across very different cultural settings. These included a conservative jingoistic Indian school, then international boarding school in the Himalayas, and even at Dartmouth. Take my boarding school roommate for example, who was born and brought up in a poor Palestinain refugee community in Lebanon. He was skilled at most of the sciences, yet didn’t believe in evolution. While many would immediately label him immediately as uneducated or brainwashed, I chose to engage him in intellectual debate.

We presented our opinions, brought up sources, and treated each other with respect. By the end, neither of us had convinced the other, but we better understood where each other were coming from. I found that his contrasting viewpoints came from a place of fair reasoning (though colored partially by his religious upbringing). Real scientists and academics shared his beliefs, and had reasoning behind them. Of course, I still believe in evolution, but we agreed to disagree. We remained friends through high school, and have had multiple academic discussions since, all of which made both him and me more informed.

Like I said, I don’t jump to judge, I seek to understand. I ask questions, present evidence, and don't try to enforce my beliefs on someone else. At Dartmouth, this has led my friend group to include people of multiple ethnicities, political beliefs and sexual orientations. It was not intentionally created that way, but naturally formed around me — much of the group met each other through me. We have had many discussions about politics and identity, and often disagreed, but always maintained a sense of respect and tried to understand rather than belittle each other. I found myself at a loss often, and had to research more to fill gaps in my arguments. In this way, my attitude has helped me learn and grow wherever I am. I strongly recommend coming from a place of humility, and assuming you know nothing, it is unlikely to backfire. And hey, maybe you’ll learn something in the process.

 

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