Cultural Expression at Robinson

A collage of patterns of various cultures.
A collage of patterns of various cultures.
Annie Eason

When people think of Robinson- many may think of its diversity. Robinson has a wide variety of culture clubs designed for providing a safe space for people of color. Robinson is quite diverse, with approximately 43.5 percent of students being people of color, according to U.S. News. However, outside of these clubs, is cultural expression for people of color at Robinson safe from judgment?


Cultural Expression at Robinson

Many people have different opinions on cultural expression. Junior Elizabeth Valdivia said, “It’s [Robinson’s] a safe place to express your culture. Every time I talk about my culture, many people are interested.” Junior Rebekah Yoon also said, “we’re even having an International Night right now, so I think that expression of culture is very much a celebrated thing. I mean, we’re getting support from the school, we’re getting support from Ram Snaps, all of the heritage clubs.” 

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Muslim Student Association (MSA) treasurer Senior Muna Ali said, “Honestly, as a Muslim, I notice a lot of people ask about my religion, not in a bad way- they’re just generally curious on what I do, specifically since Ramadan just started. A lot of people have been asking me questions not with bad intentions, but they’re just asking because they generally don’t know about it, and because they generally want to expand their knowledge and understanding about my religion. I think people are accepting of different cultures and beliefs.” 

An anonymous Junior said, “I would say it’s generally safe to express your culture at Robinson. There aren’t many people who are willing to step out, but I’m one of those people who would be willing to step out and express my culture by wearing the clothes- my traditional clothing or joining clubs for certain cultural groups.” Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) President DK Nguyen also said, “I find Robinson a pretty diverse community and you know; I really like how there’s so many clubs at Robinson and it feels like a safe place for me to share my culture.” 

However, for some, cultural expression may not feel safe at Robinson. An anonymous Junior said, “I feel like it is [safe], but there’s probably just going to be that one person, which I mean, there always [going to be] that one person. I feel like sometimes it makes it harder to express your culture because you know that there’s going to be someone that’s probably going to be saying something about it or they might ask you ‘where you’re from’ and I know they’re saying to try to be educated. And then like, once they ask you where you’re from, then they start treating you differently if you tell them you’re from a different country.” Another anonymous Junior shared similar thoughts, “yeah, it is [safe to express your culture.] I think a lot like- not 100 percent, but a lot of people do respect your cultures and if they don’t, they don’t speak about it.“


Why is it hard for people to express their culture at Robinson? 

Cultural expression can be hard for many people for many reasons. Valdivia said, “I think they do [respect people’s cultures] in a certain way, but sometimes they don’t respect their culture because they think that they don’t deserve the same respect only because they cannot speak the same languages, but besides that, I think  they respect [people’s cultures] very well.” An anonymous Junior said, “not much [respect is given to people of another culture], but they don’t disrespect you. It’s just like the side eyes most of the time.” Other people shared the same sentiment, as one anonymous junior believed that some may talk behind people’s back if they dress up in a way that’s representative of their culture. 

For Yoon, culture clubs help with this issue. According to Yoon, “I think that the presence of the student organizations here that specifically focus on a particular heritage like Asian student association (ASA), Vietnamese student Association (VSA), Muslim Student Association (MSA), Black student union (BSU), all of that, I think that presence here, like people willing to strengthen their cultural presence in the school is very strong and I’m glad about that.” However, she said, “ I do think that sometimes this doesn’t apply to all of the male students at this school, they can say less than sensitive things about race and culture, so I do think that we still struggle with that.” 

Another anonymous Junior spoke about why some people don’t feel comfortable expressing their culture saying, “maybe because they’re shy. Maybe it’s because they’re nervous, that they’ll be judged at and ridiculed by. But generally, the community at Robinson is really welcoming and friendly.” 


How do various culture clubs help with cultural expression?

Clubs such as the South Asian Student Association (SASA) or BSU certainly can help with making cultural expression an easier thing to do at Robinson. An anonymous Junior said about culture clubs, “they make it very welcoming, even if you’re not part of that culture, like biologically or religiously, they’ll welcome anyone who’s willing to learn about the culture or be a part it and everyone who’s an officer or like in charge of the club are really nice.” 

Nguyen said, “we promote cultural acceptance because in VSA we don’t just accept  Vietnamese people, anyone can apply so we have a variety of races and ethnicities in the VSA and we love everyone and everyone’s welcome.” 

Another anonymous Junior said, “first of all, they bring a lot of people together and some people have interests in those cultures. So for example, if they have an Uzbek culture club and there’s someone who’s Uzbek like I’ll meet them and I’ll have a lot of similarities in my culture- connections.” Valdivia said, “every time I see people, they feel very comfortable being in those clubs and sharing their ideas with people that have the same ideas as them, so I really think that’s a good idea that they do that [establish culture clubs.]” 

Ali said “I think a better way to make it [Robinson] more culturally accepting and make Robinson a better place is to just spread more information, like talk about common misconceptions and all that, just explaining the religion [Islam].”

A junior said, “I feel like they honestly do a good job because I feel there’s different student unions that they have for all the different cultures; that’s good cause once in a month or once in a while, you get to meet like people that look like you and I feel it’s kind of a good environment to be around sometimes because you don’t always have that.”

BSU’s culture day provided a space where people could dress up representing their culture at school. Some students dressed up and some didn’t. An anonymous Junior who dressed up said, “It was quite a surreal experience because I felt like in every class, I was the only one who dressed up and of course I got stares whenever I walked in the hallway, but it was enjoyable to see and find other people who were also dressing up. It kind of created a connection between cultures.” Another anonymous Junior said, “I dressed up for culture day. It was pretty fun, I just did it because I kind of wanted to and I wanted to change up stuff because I wear pants like all the time and [for culture day], I was wearing a skirt. I just did it for fun. I didn’t really get any weird stares or anything. I was scared that people were gonna ask me questions, but no one had asked questions or anything like that so it was all good.” 

Ali said, “Everyone complimented my outfit. They said it was really nice and pretty, and it was very nice. I liked it, everyone was very accepting.”  

However, some people didn’t dress up. While a lot of people attributed it to the cost of traditional clothing, the clothing’s complexity, or that some people simply didn’t know about it, some people may have had other reasons. An anonymous Junior said “I feel like they didn’t dress up just because they were scared about questions and if people would perceive them differently. I think they were just scared to express themselves in that way. I feel like some people will perceive you or look at you differently if they connect the dots to [realize] the fact that you are from a different culture.” 

Observance days also can help with cultural acceptance. According to FCPS, observance days are days, students can skip these days in order to celebrate a culturally significant holiday such as Orthodox Epiphany or the first full day of Ramadan. Quizzes, tests, field trips, or other activities aren’t supposed to be scheduled on these days. Nguyen said, “I like how they [culture observance days] accept a lot of people’s cultures and everything.” Observance days can help  bring more awareness to cultural events and perhaps educate people about cultures they may not be a part of. 

Observance days aren’t always observed. Many times, tests and quizzes are still scheduled on them. Nguyen said, “I wish that we had, I guess a little longer [weekend for Lunar New Year] because I heard it in Loudoun County they had a Friday off for Lunar New Year weekend.” 

Nguyen also said, “I feel like some teachers just don’t really notice that it’s an observance day, though some do. If they do, then obviously like they try their best to observe it. But if they don’t really know, then I guess you know they don’t, but it would be better if the school, or at least the county announced it to the teachers more often about whether or not we have an observance day.” Perhaps to encourage the recognition of observance days, clubs of cultures that celebrate those holidays could promote them through many ways, such as an Instagram post or a school-wide activity. 

Cultural clubs provide a space where people can feel comfortable being themselves as they surround themselves in spaces where they won’t be judged for their culture or race. Encouraging the growth of these clubs are important as to provide a safe and welcoming space for people of a variety of cultures to hang out and be themselves. However, it is equally important to try to advocate for a more accepting environment for everyone to express their cultures so that those who have different cultures don’t have to be confined to one place to express themselves.