On Sunday evening, FM decided to gather a group of Harvard students at a table in Adams House to try understand what it is like to be from the South and face the predjudice and sterotypes surrounding a Southern upbringing.
Name: Chanda Ho '01
Concentration: Afro-American Studies
Hometown: Millington, TN
Name: R. Steve Collins '02
Hometown: Greenville, SC
Name: Franklin J. Leonard '00
Concentration: Social Studies
Hometown: Columbus, GA
Name: Jennifer L. James '02
Concentration: Applied Math
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Name: Harrel E. Conner '02
Concentration: Afro-American Studies
Hometown: Memphis, TN
Name: Suzanne M. Pomey '02
Concentration: Vine Grove, KY
Name: Krishnan Unnikrishnan '02
Concentration: History of Science
Hometown: Ashland, KY
FM: When you're from the South, what exactly is so different about everything here? I'm interested in the idea of culture shock.
Harrel: I noticed two things immediately. One is they're not as friendly. Two, they move too fast. And being in the minority, Southerners get flak for being slow, but I don't think we're slow.
Steve: I don't know if those are the first two things I noticed when I first came here. Everywhere I go people always ask me if I'm from Texas. They'll hear my accent and they think I'm from Texas for some reason.
Suzanne: People here, some of them just don't have any manners. I don't hear 'please' or 'thank you' as much as I used to at home. People get up from tables and walk away and they never say 'excuse me.'
Jennifer: I guess the main thing is when I first got here people made fun of my accent and the way I talk. Also the weather different. It's freezing cold here. I bought my first boots my freshman year. First real winter coat, first winter scarf. I feel cramped in Boston. Things are more spread out. I like to drive places. There's yards. This place is kinda cramped. Two people can't walk on the sidewalk.
Chanda: I think there definitely is some culture shock. Southern hospitality doesn't exist here. The pace of life here is somewhat faster than at home. But it's weird because I get adjusted to life here and everything seems slower.
Jennifer: You're walking faster than everybody.
Chanda: And when I go home I see like cotton fields, corn fields on the side of the road and I think this is so unlike Harvard Square.
Jennifer: And definitely the friendliness of people. It might have just been me, but when I first got here I would say hello to everybody I met. And I would wave and say hello. But I would get no reply back so now I'm like everybody else just walking by.
Steve: Walking down the street everybody looks at you and says hi even if you don't know them or not.
Harrel: You have to. It's almost as if you're chastising if you don't. It's disrespectful not to say hello to someone.
Chanda: Yeah. In our neighborhood we always wave to people like in their cars. If I'm in my car and I see someone running down the street, or vice versa. At least in school when we would answer our teachers we would say 'yes, sir' or 'yes ma'am.'
Franklin: It's really a big adjustment coming to the North because you talk to people's parents and relatives and they say, 'I'm not that old. Don't call me that.' But people will be offended if you refer to them as sir or ma'am and in the South if you don't use it you're the most uncultured human being who ever walked the earth.
Harrel: Very different things are valued in the South. Like respect. Their lives aren't so important to them. They're not in such a hurry. I think about going to meals, like with my roommate, and I have to be somewhere at 7 and he'll say, 'Okay, let's get dinner at 6:45.'
[Laughs around the table]
That's ridiculous. You take an hour. You're supposed to sit down, take your time eating and talk to other people while you eat. That's a meal.
Steve: That's a big thing. My roommates always complain that I eat too slow. Back home everybody just takes a nice family dinner every night and all.
Suzanne: People don't introduce you to anybody. Down in the south, everybody introduces everybody and here you could stand somewhere forever and nobody will ever introduce you and you'll never meet new people.
FM: Do you think that's true that the value system is very different in the South?
Jennifer: I don't know if I would say the value system is different, I would say at least from my experiences, family is more important in the South. I don't really talk about school that much, I just talk about family and friends I've met. But when I get here, it's all about, 'What are you doing this summer? What are you doing after graduation? What's your life plan.' It's not about, 'Who are your friends?' It's kinda like the debate you have a paper due the next day or your friend is in trouble, where do you go? I think people in the South would be more into helping the friend. And it might just be that we're in college, but family and friends are of higher importance, definitely.
Suzanne: I don't think it's necessarily values. We just do things differently. The emphasis is on other things. All in all we all have the same wants and needs, but...
Jennifer: I think religion is, not more important in the South, but you can't go anywhere without passing a church.
Suzanne: I never met anybody who was atheist until I came here.
Franklin: That's true for me too. I can't emphasize the difference in religion-it's just so fundamentally different because it's the basic tenets of life in the South. Here, it may be or it may not. And people who you would assume to be religious are atheist.
Harrel: I think that plays a part in international people. Religion emphasizes love thy neighbor. You're literally supposed to reach out to people. It's not a country to be waiting in the line in the store and you're just talking to someone. If I'm waiting at an airport I talk to a person I just met, you know? Likewise I know who my neighbors are. My roommate from New York doesn't not know his neighbors. He's lived in the same house his entire life, with same neighbors, and he doesn't know their first names. I know the whole history of my neighbors.
Jennifer: I think one of the reasons for the culture shock is just because we are the minority. I'm the first person from my high school to go to Harvard, so it's kind of weird when I'm at college. My roommate's from New York and there are 10 people from her high school here, everyone from her block comes to Harvard. So the culture shock is in part because essentially such a small percentage of the school comes from there. If you don't count Texas and Florida, that drastically reduces the number.
Chanda: I don't count Florida as the South.
Suzanne: The whole school thing too. I graduated with 440 people and three went out of state and two of them went to like Tennessee. I'm the only person that came to the Northeast.
Franklin: I went to a small private school with a class of 54 and a lot of really really good students. Three went out of the South. My school, I don't know how big of a deal race was, but there were two kids at my school who had 'Don't Blame Me. I Voted for Jefferson-Davis' bumper stickers. So you could say there are a lot of negative things, but there are a lot of positive things about the South too.
Jennifer: You still see a lot of confederate flag bumper stickers on cars and license plates.
Harrel: Georgia has the confederate flag on their state flag. It could be a lot worse.
Jennifer: I don't see them getting rid of it.
Harrel: Speaking of the race thing though. That's one thing that's kind of irked me a lot because I had one professor who criticized the South for being so racist and slow and blah blah blah, and I agree, the South is racist. And a lot of racists are there. But I have encountered an equal amount of racist, probably more, in Boston.
Jennifer: At least in the South you know it's racism. But here people smile to your face and mind your back.
Harrel: They're quiet about their racism. I know that people with confederate flags on their pickup trucks, I should stay away from them. But here, you never know. I never had an actual encounter with racism until I came to Boston.
Steve: Yeah. I think it's much more divided up here. Just look at the dining halls, you can tell. Mostly all the white people sit with the white people and the black people sit with all of the black people. At my high school it wasn't like that at all. I think it might have to do with Boston. Boston's one of the whitest cities in the nation.
Franklin: My high school had very few African-American students. But I know that a lot of the public schools are either predominantly black 95 percent or predominately white 95 percent. My town is half-black and half-white and the schools are not at all integrated. And I'm amazed you lived in the south and your guys' experience with racism has only been in the North. I've been pulled over upwards of 10 times, not going over the speed limit, and the first question they asked me was, 'son, is this your car?' I haven't driven much in the North, but I haven't had that problem.
Harrel: Yeah I think I might have had that experience. But the thing is that I live in a predominantly black city, which makes a huge difference.
Jennifer: I went to a public high school in the suburbs of Atlanta in a majority white area. Our school was 35 percent black because we had a desegregation ruling. I felt as though we had a lot of black people. But still it was very segregated. Walk in the cafeteria and there's a black table and a white table. Even the football games, there was a black section and a white section. Pep rallies, sitting in classes-it was segregated. But I guess I never really noticed it that much because a lot of the classes I was in there weren't many black people. So coming up here, seeing the segregation didn't shock me that much. One thing I noticed is that even within the races, there's still segregation. You still have the African-Americans divided from the Africans divided from the Caribbeans. I assumed all the black people would be like me, it just amazed me that everyone's like, 'Yeah. My mother's from Ghana and my father's from Jamaica." I find that interesting.
Harrel: That was one of my biggest shocks coming here because I was used to black people being black people and white people being white people. Everybody around me was descendents of American slaves. And then I come here and there just so few of us here. Most of the black people here are one or two generations removed from Africa-not descendents of slaves. It's just weird because it's cliquish.
Suzanne: I honestly don't notice it all that much. You can go through the facebook for pages and pages and not see anybody who isn't white. Black people, you can count them on your hands. It's just insane.
Chanda: It's been an especially interesting experience for me as an Asian-American person coming to Harvard. I'm Taiwanese. One of the big things I get is, 'Where are you from? California? New York?' 'Oh I'm from Tennessee.' 'I didn't know there were Asian people from Tennessee.' I've gotten that so much and like, 'What are your parents doing there' and stuff like that. And I came from a high school where I was the only Asian American person in a class of 65 and then now I'm here and it's 20 percent Asian and it's just weird.
Chanda: Did you guys have debutante balls?
Steve: Oh yeah.
Jennifer: There were social differences-like football. Football was huge back home. Even if you didn't like football, you knew about the sport and how it was played.
Suzanne: Every Friday night you went to the game.
Jennifer: And I came here and I've been to one football game. And that was the Harvard-Yale Game.
Steve: I play and going to games...
Jennifer: Are you on the team now?
Steve: Yeah. And the stadium not being filled. I was confused.
Franklin: My junior high games were sold out.
Steve: I went to University of South Carolina games my whole life and even when they were horrible, there would still be 75,000 people at the games.
Suzanne: Even basketball. I come from Kentucky and there were tons of NCAA tours and I'm used to everything going crazy and following all of the games. I had never seen lacrosse.
Jennifer: I didn't know what a coxswain was until my roommate said she was going to tryouts. 'We're going to coxswain auditions." I didn't know what she was talking about.
Suzanne: I know. I was psyched for Head of the Charles weekend because I got to see what crew was all about. See these people in boats and find out what they do...You know what else is weird? The fact that they're so few sororities and fraternities.
Jennifer: Yeah. I knew Harvard didn't have fraternities and sororities, but it's kind of weird when they're two frat brothers. There just isn't a huge Greek life.
Suzanne: I'm actually in one of the sororities.
Jennifer: Which one?
Suzanne: Kappa Alpha Theta. We're getting ready for rush and we're encouraging all of these freshmen. And a lot of these girls are saying, 'Sorority? I don't think so.' And it's really weird because to me it's second nature. When I found out we had sororities, I was so psyched. My best friend is also from the South and we couldn't wait to rush.
Suzanne: We should form a Southern club.