Third World Center Perspectives: An Interview with Chris Tran ’17

(photo courtesy of Daphne Xu ‘14)

Hello and welcome! We are Olivia Veira and Dolma Ombadykow. We’re both first years and will be blogging the Third World Center perspective for the Bruin Club blog this year! It’s going to excellent.

Hey folks! First of all, Olivia and I would wholeheartedly like to welcome all of the Early Decision admits to the Brown community. We are incredibly excited that you’ve made the decision to come. That being said, we’ve been saving this post for an extra special time here at Brown, and if you weren’t aware, the regular decision admissions process is well underway. Olivia and I sat down with Chris Tran ‘17, the freshman representative for the Student Advisory Board of the Third World Center. Follow our conversation below to discover his advice for the application and decision process and what it means to be a student of color on campus. Needless to say, Olivia and I think he’s the coolest person ever. If you have any further questions for him, please feel free to email christopher_tran@brown.edu.

Where are you from?

I’m from Oklahoma City, I’ve lived there my whole life.

What’s your ethnicity?

I identify as Vietnamese American. My parents both immigrated from Vietnam and they came to the United States as refugees. They met in a community college in Oklahoma City.

Can you describe your application process to Brown?

I applied to Brown regular decision. I wanted to have options because I didn’t have the money to visit all the schools beforehand, and I only wanted to visit schools that had accepted me. It wasn’t until ADOCH that I realized that Brown was the perfect place for me. I just had that feeling in my stomach. I was reading a lot of online articles about how to choose the right school for you, and I realized that this was that feeling that all those websites and books had been talking about. What I really wanted was the environment of the campus — I didn’t want to live “the big life” nor did I want to be somewhere small and contained. I wanted somewhere that was contained but fluid, a place that had a lot of vibrancy in itself.

Did you take the presence of POC’s on campus as a factor of consideration when you decided to come to Brown?

Definitely. I came into ADOCH much more cognizant of social inequality at the time — I was a bit more acutely aware of how my experiences had been shaped by systems of oppression. You know, obviously, those things weren’t born into my vocabulary at the time. I applied to schools that had a significant number of students of color on campus, and I also took into account that I wanted a socially liberal campus as opposed to Oklahoma. I definitely focused on whether or not the schools I was interested in had ways of making students of color feel accepted. I was not aware of what the Third World Center was during ADOCH, and I was definitely not aware of what it stood for. It wasn’t until my ADOCH host, who is a minority peer counselor this year, told me about what the TWC does. I wasn’t aware of how much the TWC could suit my needs. It’s weird to think about, I guess I didn’t realize that as a student of color I have different needs. I don’t think of the TWC as a concrete thing and students can use it however they may need. Everyone brings in their own experiences which can be amplified within the TWC in different ways. The TWC is invaluable, it can do whatever you need it to do for you.

How have you been able to use the TWC to your needs?

My first experience was with TWTP and I walked in knowing that this is about social justice, this is perfect for me. But I didn’t really know what it was about beyond that. I was scared because I wasn’t sure what environment it would foster. And I think a lot of TWTP is creating your own environment yourself. And it was great because it served as an introduction to systems of oppression in the United States, the list included things like racism and sexism and classism and heterosexism, but it also ventured into things that I didn’t really think about before such as imperialism and ableism. It was a way of examining different aspects of my identity that I had already identified with as well as other identities that my own privilege didn’t let me see before. It’s really weird because I don’t want to paint TWTP as a way of describing all of the problems in the world; it’s a way of creating conversations and acknowledging why the way the world is the way it is now. It was also a great way of meeting friends. It was nice to know that I could meet other students of color that may be coming from similar experiences as I did, but it also really opened my eyes up to what it really means to be a student of color. We do all come from different backgrounds, we are not all super activists, but it was nice and comforting and it was really interesting to think about how the Ivy League and other forms of higher education have really changed over the years.

I think my biggest fear about coming to the Northeast was being around the stereotypical white, upperclass, prep school kids–I don’t know, that idea that I really did not identify with at all — and since I’ve been here, I have met those students and some of those students have also been students of color, but TWTP was a way of acknowledging that we all have our own privileges, but we can acknowledge our differences and also celebrate them, and acknowledge them not as divisions but things that make us who we are. We have to think of them holistically. I identify as middle class, first generation, queer and Vietnamese. But these things, even if they happen isolation, make up different parts of me, and they aren’t everything. There are other parts of me. I love photography and I love spoken word and I love film and I love cooking, I love puppies. All of these different aspects make me who I am.

What’s your favorite thing about Brown?

All the dogs on the Main Green. The fact that almost everyone I’ve met loves

Beyonce–I’m almost certain that this is the number one school for Beyonce (ed: hey, Beyonce fans, apply to Brown!). Mostly, I love the Third World community. It’s not just a community of students of color, it’s not just a function of race. The TWC is not just a building, it’s also an ideology. it’s a way of thinking and a way of approaching the world. It’s a place to eat, hang out, gossip. But, it’s also a place to foster conversation about systems of oppression, etc. The TWC didn’t necessarily begin these discussions at Brown, though. It aplified them to a whole new leve. I often think about what would have happened if the center did not exist, and I know my experience would have been completely different.

Have you found allyship outside the TWC community? What does allyship mean to you?

I want to preface this by saying that I think Brown as a community is a lot more diverse and accepting than some of our peer institutions. That being said, allyship is not identifying with other oppressed groups. If I want to be an ally, I have to step back and think about what my privileges are and how I want to acknowledge them. How do I want other allies to work in solidarity with me? This is a continuing conversation. I don’t know if I have a solid answer for what it necessarily means to be an ally at Brown. Acknowledging your privilege is the least you can do, you aren’t really doing anything, you need to figure out what you want to do about it. You’re pointing out one facet of yourself. Being cognizant of the queer struggle does not make you an ally to queer folks. If you want to work in solidarity with this cause, it’s important to actively participate. Hear what they want you to do. It’s also important to remember that not everyone acknowledges their privilege in the first place and not everyone wants to do something about it.

What’s your least favorite thing about Brown?

First I want to say that I’m here at Brown talking about oppression on a completely different level than I could back home. That being said, I think my least favorite part about Brown is that I have begun to realize that Brown is not necessarily the school I applied to. There are no books or websites or even alumnae or current students who can accurately capture the experience of Brown. I don’t necessarily think that is a problem, though. I came to Brown thinking that everyone was very activism-oriented and that I would not have to face microaggressions in general. I came to Brown thinking that I could focus on my school work, you know, get that degree get that cash and move on. No, I’m still occupied with aggression–not just microaggression but also full on aggression. I agree that Brown does a much better job of soliciting these conversations in the first place, except that Brown would never own up to what it really is, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just mean that it doesn’t confront its own bad blood and history. Institutionally, it does not really recognize that it was built on native land. Slave blood was shed to create these buildings, and there have been few reparations for all the sins we’ve done. Yeah, Brown does a lot more than a lot of other universities–I would not know this information. Had I gone to the University of Oklahoma, would I have even known about the bad blood spilt there? Probably not. It’s my least favorite part of Brown, who Brown paints itself to be compared to what it really is. I say that because just in the past month I’ve gotten a better understanding of Brown. I don’t still understand it, but I think that students who do apply to Brown need to know that it is not a utopia, but at the same time, there is no utopia. But, if you want to begin building towards this idea of utopia, Brown would be a really good place to go, because at least here we can talk about why it’s not perfect in the first place.

What are some of the things you’re involved in on campus and why?

I participate in the LGBTQ Resource Center, I’m the freshman representative on the Student Advisory Board on the TWC, I do Brown Tae Kwon Do, I’m on the ADOCH committee for the Bruin Club and work on the media team, I’m doing research on social cognition with a psychology professor, and I work for BUDS. My favorite thing that I am doing right now though is Gravediggers, which is a spoken word collective for emerging voices of color. I did spoken word for the first time at TWTP and Gravediggers reached out to me and asked me to join. It’s a really great community of a lot of people doing spoken word for the first time.

What’s your favorite class right now, and why?

“Beyond Chinatown: The Past, Present, and Future of Asian American Spaces” – it’s an American Studies/Ethnic Studies cross listed course. I came in as a Political Science concentrator–I was wrong–this class has changed my life. The class deals with how Asian Americans have created spaces in the United States and it also deals with the way that other immigrants have dealt with creating spaces. But, it also asks what space is, in general. When does a space become a place and when do people start truly living in this space and how do people bring their life experiences into that place? When do people start attaching memories to their space? This class has changed my life. As a result, I’m pretty sure I’ll concentrate in American Studies and maybe sociology.

Do you have any advice for applicants?

As far as the application goes, my biggest concern was the essays. Me and two of my best friends spent all of winter break getting our essays together. We were applying to a lot of schools and its really easy to pass your essays off … it’s also really easy to be really overconfident in what you’re writing and think that what you wrote is good enough. If I turned in my first drafts of my essays I would not be here. Workshop them to death until you know that your essays are killer. But also remember that essays aren’t the only thing, it’s a holistic process — not one thing will make you or they break you. My grades weren’t the best. I will go on record saying that I applied to Brown with a C on my transcript but here I am. At the end of the day admissions is tricky but they need to get a good idea of who you are. Look at your application and probably edit your essays because your essays are so important.

Any advice on how to choose Brown?

I realize that not everyone gets the opportunity, but visit the school. Really visit and take advantage of the opportunity. After knowing where I had been accepted, those were the formative days of decision for me. I woke up during my visit to this beautiful view of a brick wall, and I was like, I love this brick wall and what it stands for. The most information you are going to get is by visiting and talking to the students and learning what Brown stands for.

Last question — favorite Blue Room muffin?

I work at the Blue Room so I can say with complete certainty that I am the happiest when a batch of Butter Rum muffins come fresh out of the oven. ▣

We told you Chris rocks. If you have any further questions about his time at Brown, or anything really, please do not hesitate to email him at christopher_tran@brown.edu.

We will be co-blogging the first year, Third World Center perspective for the Bruin Club this year. If you have any questions or suggestions for what you’d like to see happen with our blog, please send us an email! We don’t bite (promise!).

We hope to hear from all of you!

Olivia & Dolma

olivia_veira@brown.edu

dolma_ombadykow@brown.edu

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