The Scattered Thoughts of an Asian-American Girl Attending a Predominantly White University
As a student at the wonderful Bentley University, I have been provided so many wonderful opportunities to learn and thrive. Through my many involvements and rigorous classes, I have been poured into time and time again, while being able to pour into others, creating a cycle of love of growth for my community as a whole. However, despite my love for my community, I can recognize many areas of growth… particularly in regard to the recognition of BIPOC voices.
In June 2020, students, who wished to remain anonymous, began a social justice movement on campus. This came through an Instagram page, known as @blackatbentley. Through this page, all students were encouraged to submit their own stories of racial injustice, both small and large, and everything in between. Despite the name, this movement was open to students of all races and ethnicities, but focused on racial injustices committed against BIPOC students, whether it was socially, academically, in on-campus jobs, or anywhere in relation to the Bentley campus. The response was overwhelming.
Through this, I was also able to share my stories of racial injustice. One particular incident that stands out in my own mind happened when I was nearing the end of my first semester of freshman year. I went to the dining hall and the lady who swiped me in said “When are you moving back to China, honey?” Although she meant no harm, that question stopped me in my tracks. I was born and raised in Massachusetts. Furthermore, I am a Vietnamese American, who has never been to Vietnam, let alone China. Although my ethnicity has been assumed incorrectly many times before, this instance stung a little more than normal. Simply due to my appearance and nothing more, the leap that had to be taken to assume I was Chinese, international, and from China was truly astronomical. This is not to say there is anything wrong with being Chinese or international or from China. However, to blatantly assume that I am something I am not is an issue of identity. I appreciated it no more than if you were to be called the wrong name.
Another instance I do not so fondly recall happened in my history class, my second semester of freshman year. This was around the time of the Lunar New Year. My professor asked to speak to me after class. Upon speaking to him, he mentioned that he was worried about my upcoming absence from class. Confused, I asked “My absence for what?” He responded, “The Chinese New Year!” My professor, who I had spoken to prior to this incident, had mistaken me for the only other Asian girl in the class. Furthermore, he erased the multiple other countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year, reducing it to the all-too-common misconception that “all Asians are Chinese.” Again, this was rather hurtful, especially since I had corresponded with this professor on more personal matters that were making the semester more difficult than was typical. To be reduced to my gender and assumed ethnicity is a truly dehumanizing experience.
One final instance I will mention occurs at my work-study position on campus. One of my managers uses my name and another Asian-American female’s names interchangeably. After being corrected multiple times, exasperated, she said “You all just look so alike to me!” To put it simply, this is appalling. I do understand the presence and necessity of the lazy brain in order to make quick assumptions and allow an “autopilot” of sorts. But when the autopilot is relied upon too heavily and ends up alienating those in the out-groups, that is a blatant situation of injustice that is being perpetuated by ignorance, whether it is conscious or not.
Unfortunately, we have a long way to go when it comes to fighting social injustices, even at such a progressive school as Bentley University. I am not alone and, to be honest, my stories could even be considered tame compared to the countless, sometimes egregious, racist actions against other members in my community. Although I am proud of my school, I cannot say that I am always proud of the behavior of those around me.
Therefore, I am writing this blog to implore any reader to first notice your own implicit biases. Some of these thoughts are so ingrained and subconscious that we don’t even realize they are there. But they are. They are lingering and dangerous and hurtful to those around you. This is not to say it is entirely your fault since socialization plays a big role in these biases. However, it is not enough to blame society and move on. You must work on recognizing these biases, then work to undo those biases.
This is a journey and, trust me, it is not an easy one. There will be setbacks and backsliding and obstacles. But it is a worthwhile journey that will only lead to a better future for all.