During the last weekend of September, when the summer heat of Nashville had calmed down a little, some of my friends and I noticed that Family Weekend was the talk of the town. A large number of parents wandered around Alumni Lawn, carefully watching students go about their days, seemingly taking mental pictures of the beautiful scenery. By Sunday afternoon, many students had uploaded pictures on Instagram and Facebook, depicting their families eating out at a special dinner or making the “Anchor Down” sign in front of some Vanderbilt landmarks. To contrast, when I scrolled through my photo album, the only pictures I found with my parents were the during freshman orientation. After that, my parents couldn’t even imagine visiting me at school. Half-way across the world in Vienna, Austria, they would have to spend literally thousands of dollars to spend a weekend with me. I was jealous, to say the least, that some of the students could casually have their parents over in town for the weekend.
Family Weekend at Vanderbilt is supposed to be a jolly event in which students’ relatives can visit and see what their lives look like during the school year. Additionally, parents and family members get to participate in our festivities – for instance, many (maybe too many) parents decided to tailgate with their kids. More than 4,300 people attended Vanderbilt Family Weekend this year, up 50 percent from a decade ago, likely because more and more parents crave a higher level of engagement with their kids. It’s a win-win for Vanderbilt: the University looks considerate for hosting the event and it is able to communicate to parents that their students are having a great time.
The event seems perfect for those who get to participate. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt doesn’t take into account those students whose families cannot attend. I’m a sophomore international student. I have seen (but not participated in) two family weekends so far, and am cognizant of the fact that my family is most definitely not going to be here for the next two. So I am quite bitter about my and many others’ exclusion from this event.
Vanderbilt flaunts statistics about its international students in order to manifest diversity and cultural richness. In fact, international students make up more than 10 percent of the student body. Additionally, approximately 20 percent of students are from the West Coast or New England, meaning that at least 30 percent of students’ families would find it difficult to attend the event due to distance.
Vanderbilt also flashes the amount of financial aid it provides. Need-based grants allow students of diverse financial backgrounds to attend. How did Vanderbilt not consider parents and families who couldn’t join for financial reasons, or who have to work on the weekends?
Vanderbilt used to be just another Southern private university, whose students were mostly well-to do and from surrounding states. Back then, a family weekend would have been a perfect event to host – there were few barriers to attendance. However, Vanderbilt has grown and developed into a national university with many international students. The University claims that, “Family Weekend is the perfect opportunity for students, parents, grandparents and siblings to enjoy the Vanderbilt experience.” But is it? Now seems like a good time to reevaluate the practicality, and impact of family weekends. Today, it seems like a way to exclude those who can’t afford to have their families over.
Funnily enough, Princeton University was the only university out of the US News Top 25 schools that offered an “accommodation” for those who could not attend its family weekend. It offers a live stream of some of the question-and-answer panels they have for parents. But it makes me question if that alone is enough to appease the emotional impact a family weekend might have on students.
I am not suggesting an abolition of the Family Weekend event; rather, this event needs a change to make it more inclusive. Our university needs to remember that not all families have the same opportunity to participate.
Maybe I’m bitter because I only get to see my family twice a year, and for not a significant amount of time. But many of my fellow students face the same financial and physical barriers that I do.
Harry Choi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.