BackgroundInterview Date:December 2018
Gender Identity: Male
Graduation Year: 2020
Sexual Orientation: Gay
High School Experience: Private school in Atlanta with a graduating class of about 300 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Majors: Double major in Political Science and Spanish and Portuguese.
Extracurricular Activities: AMIGOS, which is a service organization for the Latin community, I served on the student government, I’ve done a couple of Habitat for Humanity builds, and I’ve had leadership roles in my fraternity.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
I’ve always enjoyed service and I wanted to get involved in any ways that I could see possible. I was able to do that both within my fraternity and outside of it.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your majors?
Because Spanish and Portuguese is literature focused so it’s mostly reading and writing assignments. In any given class, I’d have four or five 2-3-page essays throughout the semester and then there will be bigger 10-page papers or a final is a 15-20-page paper. It really depends on the class. For Political Science, it depends on how technical the class is. If there are tests, they’ll be pretty standard with multiple choice and short answer questions.
Is there anything that you feel your majors’ departments do especially well or especially poorly?
My one complaint with Spanish and Portuguese is they don’t allow you enough room to take the courses that you want if you study both languages. The major is very literature focused, so if you want to take a linguistics course in the other language or something like that, it’s very difficult.
Do you feel that people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
Yes. I think especially with Political Science, it’s going to become controversial at any point. I feel that our school is, in general, is more liberal-leaning, and I think that’s something that’s happened in recent years. I’d say it’s about ¾ liberal and ¼ conservative, but you don’t hear the conservative voices as much just because academia tends to be liberal-leaning too. I think people are open to different schools of thought, but I just don’t know if those different schools of thought get shared.
How accessible have the professors in your department been?
They’ve been pretty accessible. I think all the professors at Vanderbilt are pretty accessible. In the foreign language department, you get professors are a little quirkier, so if you have that face to face interaction in an appointment or after class they will be helpful, but if you send them an email sometimes they won’t respond.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’m happy with my choice. I really like studying different systems of political science. The specialization I chose within my major is Comparative Politics, and after graduation I intend to either pursue a doctorate in international relations or go to law school, so I think that studying my major has helped me understand other countries’ systems of justice. The foreign language piece is something I’ve always been interested in and been good at. Instead of just doing Spanish, I wanted to take another one, so Portuguese fell into place. The Business minor I tacked on but don’t feel like it’s doing much for me, so that one I feel mediocre about.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Ingram Commons with one roommate. That’s the situation with pretty much all freshmen.
Sophomore: I was an R.A. in a freshman dorm.
Junior: I live in a single and then next year I’ll go abroad.
How was transitioning from Atlanta to Nashville, TN?
Atlanta and Nashville are only 4-hours apart, so it was a pretty seamless transition. They’re both liberal cities and in the South so they share a similar vibe. Atlanta has a lot more diversity and is much bigger than Nashville. It’s also hard to say because the city itself feels estranged from the school because Vanderbilt pulls the majority of its students from Chicago, California, and New York. When I’m on campus it feels like there are people from all over the country, and it also has an international vibe because we have a pretty large international student population as well. [33% of Vanderbilt students come from the South, 18% come from the Midwest, 17% come from the Mid-Atlantic, and 11% come from the West. Also, 9% are international students.]
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I always feel safe. There have been a couple of shootings near campus, but I feel like there are shootings in all cities. It’s no different than my hometown. I don’t live in an unsafe area of Nashville, but I feel like stuff like that is inevitable. I don’t feel any less safe in Nashville than I would anywhere else.
Do you sometimes feel like you are more so a resident of Nashville or a student at Vanderbilt?
Not really, because Vanderbilt is pushing for a residential community model so everyone will live on campus all four years. Because of that, I think most students would say they feel more bound to campus than they do the greater Nashville community.
Pros and cons of being located in Nashville, TN?
1) I like that it’s in a city. I’ve always liked that.
2) Nashville has really nice weather. I think that affects things more than people think. It’s not freezing cold in the winter and people have a vibrant campus and city to explore all year.
1) There’s not a lot of parking near campus.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I personally have done the whole Broadway scene, which is the typical bar scene in the city. There are also frat parties which are big for people in Greek life and even the people not in Greek life will come through to the parties, and that’s not a big deal. Those are the two main things, but I’ve also done some more of the underground coffee shop scene. I’ve been to some open-mics, and there are a lot of concerts in Nashville, so I’ve been to some underground shows and stuff. The majority of my weekends are spent doing the typical college stuff, like going to bars, clubs, or frat parties.
What nights of the week do you regularly go out?
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but I don’t typically go out each one of those because that’s a lot, especially now that I’m a junior. Now I usually go out once or twice a week, usually towards the weekend, but, every once in a while, I’ll go out on a Tuesday or a Wednesday because certain clubs and bars will have specials.
Can you describe a typical night going out freshman year? How did it differ when you were less socially established?
Freshman year it was a lot more moving in big groups because not everybody had found their place yet. Now I usually go to stuff in smaller groups. I also think that I am more responsible now, not that I was super irresponsible back then. I just know more and don’t feel the need to [do certain things] that I did back then.
How did your social life differ before and after you joined Greek life?
It was hard to notice the change for me because I was pretty social beforehand. I really liked a lot of the guys in my fraternity, so that’s what attracted me most to Greek life. They seemed similar to me and we shared a lot of the same interests. For other people, it might be a different experience, but for me, I had a lot of communities that I belonged to before because I had certain roles on campus that helped me form those bonds within organizations.
What’s the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
It has a pretty big impact on me because, if I’m going to go out, the majority of the time I’m doing something with my fraternity. In a way, I think it does control a lot of what is available on campus, but, on the other hand, Nashville is close so other things are very accessible.
How has being a person who identifies as LGBT influenced your nightlife experience?
I still have a lot of fun whether I go to a straight club or a gay club. They’re both good. I’m usually going out with my friends. My friends are more just there to have a good time. I wish there was a little bit more LGBT nightlife in Nashville, but then again, I think that’s a product of the community. Now that Nashville is growing and becoming more progressive, I think that will probably change.
How happy were you with the nightlife at Vanderbilt? If you could change anything, what would you change?
I like it a lot. I would say I enjoy the Nashville nightlife better than Atlanta’s, which is something I didn’t think I would be going in. I don’t think there is anything I would change.
What have been some of your favorite times at college?
There’s annual concert series on campus called Rites of Spring that Vanderbilt puts on. There also a lot of date parties within Greek life and those are really fun because you get to get dressed up and go into the city.
How did you meet your closest friends?
It’s changed a little bit throughout college because I’ve met people who I am closer to now towards the end of sophomore year and beginning of junior year, which was a surprise for me because I already felt like I had good friends from freshman and sophomore year. The majority are through my fraternity or through being an R.A., and then a couple also came from student government. They are all kind of random but make sense because they are from the communities I am involved in.
How would you describe the social scene?
It’s good. It’s small. You never feel overcrowded when you are at any of the frat houses and generally it makes it tamer. It’s half what you would expect from a frat party and half just more casual, but that’s just one facet of the social scene. A lot of people hang out on campus because it’s an extremely academic school and people have crazy hard majors so they spend a lot of time studying. People will plan their social things around things they are already doing, like people will study and hang out together or grab lunch and catch up because sometimes it feels that you don’t have enough time to fit in all of your social stuff on top of your academics. The one negative is that sometimes people feel overcommitted.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I would say that there’s a pretty big racial divide at Vandy. It’s pretty separate, which is a little bizarre. I think there’s a culture of keeping to what’s familiar, and I don’t think there’s enough branching out of your niche. People will branch off to what’s familiar to them, like a lot of Black students will hang out with Black students and a lot of Asian students will stay with Asian students.
In terms of sexual orientations, I’m not really sure because I hang out with everyone. When I think about the profile of my friends, I would say probably 60 to 70% of them are straight, and the others are gay or on the LGBTQ spectrum. People hang out regardless of sexual orientation because or school is pretty progressive and our nobody really cares about that stuff.
Do you think most people are happy with their choice of Vanderbilt by senior year? Do you think people leave loving Vanderbilt?
I would say most people feel pretty positive about it. There are always going to be negatives to the way people perceive things. The main complaint about our school is that it’s a pressure cooker and people suffer from mental health issues that aren’t necessarily treated well by our campus facilities. [Note: In 2018 Vanderbilt launched a strategic plan to improve student mental health and well-being. This includes the Student Care Network.]
How do you like the size of the undergraduate population at Vanderbilt? [Vanderbilt has about 6,800 undergraduate students.]
I love the size, it’s a big part of why I chose to come here. I wanted something that was smaller. You can still feel very involved in the community but you will still meet new people all the time. On our campus, you might not know someone directly, but you’ll know someone who knows someone who knows them.
How strong is the LGBT community on campus?
The main group is Lambda, and they have very free views which is very cool and I really support that. It can be polarizing for some people because they’re super, super gay and people who are just coming out of the closet might feel afraid to be waving their rainbow flag. I think the strength of the community is pretty average.
Have you used the alumni network to find internships or jobs?
So far, no, but I definitely will be reaching out more in the future. I know that a lot of my friends have reached out to alums and I know I will in the future. As of now, everything I’ve earned was something I applied to independently.
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I don’t like it. The people don’t really give you the answers you are trying to get. A lot of people really like it, so that’s just my take. Most people who I talk to have had positive experiences with the career office, but I just didn’t feel like it was helpful. I feel like I’ve gotten more from talking to people within the related industry. It’s too broad, but maybe that makes it helpful for people who are lacking direction.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful to you professionally?
I’ve done a lot of Excel for my Business minor, and that’s the extent to what I’m familiar with.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Vanderbilt before you entered as a freshman?
I guess I wish I had known about the racial divide on campus because that’s something I’ve wanted to change since I’ve arrived on campus. It’s hard to find organic ways to integrate disparate groups on campus. I don’t think it would have completely deterred me, but it would have been nice to know because I wasn’t expecting it.
What is something a prospective LGBT student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
It’s a good community. It’s not strong in the sense that I don’t see a ton of people all congregating around it, but I think everyone’s very accepting.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that is worth checking out?
I don’t think they show the auditoriums, but those are nice, especially for students interested in the performing arts. I don’t sing or play instruments, but our performance halls are really grand and have a great acoustics setup.
Reasons to attend Vanderbilt:
1) For me, the professors have been really great and really helpful. But for other people, I’ve heard varying reviews because some are focused on research.
2) The social life here is so much fun. There is always stuff to do around campus and you can find pretty much anything you would want to do in a big city. There is a good mix of a campus social life and city social life.
3) It prepares you well to succeed with whatever career you end up choosing because there will be some mentor along the way, whether it’s a professor, alumnus, or career center worker that knows the field that you want to work in.
Reasons to not attend Vanderbilt:
1) The social life can be overwhelming. I know that some people have commented about how Vanderbilt has a really strong extrovert culture, which I tend to work well with. A lot of people who feel more introverted don’t feel like there’s as much space for them on campus. The way our campus culture is set up is you are forced to be thrown into a lot of social scenes, so I don’t think it’s supportive of all different personality types.