Pan-Asian community hosts talk

by Heather Szilagyi | 4/21/14 6:38pm

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by Jin Lee / The Dartmouth

Around 30 students discussed faculty diversity and sensitivity, class offerings and racial stereotypes at a Pan-Asian community discussion about the “Freedom Budget” Monday evening. With meetings between “Freedom Budget” contributors and administrators slated to begin this week, concerned students in the Pan-Asian community are working to consolidate their recommendations, event co-organizer Moulshri Mohan ’15 said.

After students staged a sit-in in College President Phil Hanlon’s office earlier this month to demand a point-by-point response to the “Freedom Budget,” Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson arranged for the students to meet with appropriate College administrators to address the document’s various points. Pan-Asian community members who participate in these meetings will draw on discussion points from Monday’s meeting and exit surveys from the event to inform their approach, event co-organizer Archana Ramanujam ’14 said.

The Freedom Budget, Mohan said, contained several points pertaining to the Pan-Asian community before any members of that community had become involved in the drafting process, and the event was intended to gather broader perspectives.

Ramanujam, who like many of Monday’s discussion organizers was not involved in the compilation of the “Freedom Budget,” said that she has become more involved this term.

“I would like to see more Asians get involved in the ‘Freedom Budget’ and conversations about diversity broadly construed on campus,” Ramanujam said.

The majority of Monday night’s discussion focused on faculty and administrative diversity. Many students expressed concern that the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies department does not address their identities and called for a separate Asian studies department.

The discussion also touched on the need for faculty mentors that can relate to all aspects of the student experience.

“I think part of having a great mentor is you can see part of yourself in that person, and it’s also mirrored back,” said Eva Xiao ’14, an organizer. “That’s a strong connection.”

Participants agreed that Dartmouth suffers from a lack of Asian faculty and classes that explore Asian and Asian-American identity.

Discussion moderator Carla Yoon ’15 said in an interview that she believed discussion participants want to see a more accessible Pan-Asian community at Dartmouth, but factors including the community’s interior diversity and lack of shared social spaces hinder its development.

During the discussion, students also spoke about the Japanese, Korean and Hindi-Urdu language affinity housing recommended in the “Freedom Budget,” noting that the ultimate goal would be establishing an Asian-American affinity house.

A portion of the discussion also focused on stereotypes, including the preconception that Asian students are inherently smarter, which some said pressures them to perform exceptionally well.

Other students raised the issue of the “silent Asian” stereotype, which characterizes Asians as passive and reserved, both inside and outside the classroom.

Some discussion participants also said that they had been in classes where professors made offhand racist remarks, agreeing that faculty should be made more sensitive and aware of their biases. Students, however, disagreed on the extent to which students should be expected to address instances of bias in the classroom, especially due to professors’ control over grades.

Ramanujam said the event elucidated a range of perspectives and clarified the community’s ​concerns.​

“Sometimes the people in the administration don’t have as good of an idea of what happens on the ground,” Ramanujam said.

Students at the meeting emphasized the need to work with other minority communities to form a united front in mobilizing for change at Dartmouth.

An Asian and Asian American activism group was formed at the College earlier this term to unite members of the Pan-Asian community, Mohan said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

Correction appended: April 22, 2014

This article originally said that students spoke about faculty control over recommendation letters as reason for hesitating to address issues of bias in the classroom. The discussion on Monday focused on grades, not letters of recommendation, and the article has been revised to correct the error.

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