April 18, 2017
By Krithika Saraswathy Pennathur
Going to a predominantly white high school presented a new set of experiences for me. Being in an environment where you were the only representation of your race is daunting. However, I never felt the pressure to meet up to stereotypes of an Indian woman. I was never actively exposed to them. I felt extremely lucky to be around people that didn’t impose their vision of an Indian girl on me.
This changed when I got to college.
College has presented me with a new set of identity challenges. Although Pitt is considered a predominantly white institution, this was the first time in my life where some of my peers were Indian. I was exposed to a whole set of standards of what I should and should not be.
When I first started college, I only associated with Indians because I wanted to feel a sense of belonging. After coming from a high school and living in a neighborhood where there was virtually no one who looked like me, it was comforting to find that sense of community.
After my first two years of college, through various instances, I realized I did not fit in with the stereotypical “brown girl” image.
So many times, when I tried to connect with Indian people, I would meet with people telling me how “bold” I could be, and how I was “different in a bad way.” My fiercely liberal, activist nature and my interest in social politics collided with many Indians. I remember being told on many occasions that my thinking is “too radical,” especially during arguments. I even had my experiences with prejudice as an Indian woman invalidated, because “it’s not typical for Indians to feel this way.”
When I tell people my majors, I sometimes am met with skepticism and contempt. I often have to provide reasoning as to why I am a dual humanities major and I have to refute the assumption that I am “too stupid to do science.”
I am a dual humanities major and a dual STEM minor. In my STEM classes, I see more of my race, but I am still underestimated by people who are aware of my majors. In my humanities classes, I was the only Indian woman in the room, sometimes the only person of color. I felt an even greater pressure to represent the experiences of an Indian woman. This presented a paradox since my experiences and thoughts are in isolation, according to most of the Indian community. How can I represent my identity when I experience it differently than most?
Despite these challenges, some of my best friends are Indian, and they are very supportive of my life goals. Unfortunately, my expression of my identity doesn’t always match the expectations.
“I am Not your Indian Girl.”
I find myself thinking this on a regular basis. Occasionally, I even say it to some people, and here’s why:
I have experienced life differently and I am grateful for those experiences. I have different interests and I am pursuing a different life path. This doesn’t mean I am any less Indian nor does it mean that I should feel uncomfortable in all-Indian spaces.
Krithika Pennathur is a sophomore English Writing (nonfiction track) and History major pursuing minors in Chemistry and Statistics and certificates in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies & Public and Professional Writing at the University of Pittsburgh.