Vanderbilt Student Government Wants to Add Caste to Nondiscrimination Policy

Students at Vanderbilt University hope to join several other universities in adding the South Asian caste system to their nondiscrimination policies.
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Published on March 31, 2023
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  • The bill was penned by five juniors and is co-sponsored by 26 people and entities.
  • Caste is a rigid system of social stratification that can persist among some populations of South Asian descent.
  • Brown University, Harvard University, and the California State University system have adopted anti-caste nondiscrimination policies.

Students at Vanderbilt University are pushing for an anti-caste amendment to be added to the institution's nondiscrimination policy.

The student government at the Nashville, Tennessee, school passed a bill last month calling for an anti-caste discrimination clause to be added to the university's nondiscrimination policy, according to The Vanderbilt Hustler, an independent student newspaper.

Harvard Law Review describes caste as "… a structure of social stratification that is characterized by hereditary transmission of a set of practices, often including occupation, ritual practice, and social interaction," BestColleges previously reported.

The Vanderbilt Student Government's bill, which was penned by five juniors, describes the caste system as an "ancient Indian social hierarchy system" that people are born into. The bill states that while most Americans can't identify caste, those of South Asian descent, scholars, and students can determine caste by a person's last name.

"Caste isn't something that is visible on your body," said Min Kalsikam, outreach co-chair for the Vanderbilt South Asian Cultural Exchange and the bill's co-author. "Because people don't really know about caste, it is much easier to discriminate against people based on caste."

The student government recommends the university amend the discrimination policy to say:

"Vanderbilt University does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, military service, or genetic information, and caste, which is protected under this policy, in its administration of educational policies, programs, or activities; admissions policies; scholarship and loan programs; athletic or other University-administered programs; or employment. In addition, the University does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their caste identity consistent with the University's non-discrimination policy."

Several universities, including Harvard, the California State University system, and Brown University, have implemented anti-caste discrimination policies.