Ethnography: Arbor Court

Chris BeecherEthnography, New Voices, Previous Editions

For my ethnography I chose the busiest place I have visited on the CSUN campus: Arbor Court. Arbor Court is located on the north side of the campus, behind Bayramian Hall. There is the Arbor, Freudian Sip, and the Super Market in the Arbor Court, as well as a big yard with over twenty tables so that everybody can socialize and eat their meals in the nice weather. Around noon this place is filled with students and staff; it is the busiest time of the day.

It is around four o’clock in the afternoon of one of the hottest days in October. When I enter the yard, one of the Rihanna’s songs is playing from the roof speakers. I take a seat at a table in the corner of the yard. There is the fresh smell of coffee mixed with burgers in the air. The floor is wet and the smell of mud fills my lungs. It is not the rush hour. Two tables away from me to my left, three girls are sitting around a table, each with their laptops and their lunch bags. They are mute and keep on making unfamiliar gestures with their hands. I don’t understand anything from their silent conversations. Sometimes they make fast gestures with their hands that are hard to follow. They keep making symbols and typing on their computer. As I am trying to make sense of them, a guy at the front table catches my attention.

He is looking around and shaking his left leg. He is trying to keep himself busy with his cellphone but cannot stop looking around. His dark skin contrasts with the white shirt that he is wearing with big letters typed on it, and white shorts with blue stripes. He takes his cellphone to his ears and starts talking to it. As he talks on the phone he gets up and grabs his backpack and leaves. Beside his table, a girl is standing with her big camera trying to take some pictures of the fountain. She keeps changing her position. The water is so clear. I think of taking a picture myself at the fountain.

When I look at everyone around me, I feel peaceful. I am sharing a big space with a diverse group of people. People of different ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds are sitting together in peace. This view is not normal and usual for me. In my country, Iran, there is a lot of gender and religious discrimination. Whenever I come to Arbor Court, I keep thinking about this subject. Students, regardless of all these issues, are studying together and socializing. For fourteen years I lived in a country where everybody was similar to each other, shared similar culture, and language. However, this place is a symbol of peace. As I walk around the tables, I hear different voices and languages. In universities in Iran, the staff members were always around to make sure girls are not hanging out with boys, and make sure everyone was dressed in a certain way. I am amazed by the freedom here; people dress as they like and hang out with whomever they want.

Thinking about these issues, I see a girl in front of me who seems frustrated with the texts in front of her. She has three thick books open in front of her and as she reads, and keeps jotting down something in a piece of paper. She rests her head on the table very minute. She grabs her cellphone for a moment. I see a very tall muscular guy coming towards her. He hugs her with a big smile. He sits across from her and grabs her papers. It seems he is discussing something with her.

A very loud masculine voice catches my attention. Two guys are sitting at the tables beside me. Both have two plastic boxes in front of them with some green vegetable in them. One of the guys is talking about a concert that is held this week; he is convincing his friend to join him. But his friend is not happy with the invitation. As I am listening to their conversation, I check my cellphone. It is time for me to go to my next class. I try to pack up my stuff. I look around and see more people in the yard. It is getting darker; they have turned on the lights. I say goodbye to my favorite place until I come tomorrow, leaving my thoughts here.