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The Dartmouth
February 25, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Alsheikh: We Need Asian American Space

The recent vandalism of the Pan-Asian Community Room highlights the urgency behind more campus resources for the community.

Tucked away in the back of Robinson Hall is the Pan-Asian Community room, a small space filled with art, books and memorabilia celebrating Asian and Asian American student life at Dartmouth. Serving a whole continent and countless diasporas on campus, the space is one of the only areas on campus dedicated to Asian Americans and the Pan-Asian community and is a focal point for Asian American student life at the College.

When students came back from their summer off-terms, the community room was found trashed. Several items had been stolen, garbage was strewn across the floor, wall frames had been broken and books were scattered around the room. Food waste dirtied practically every surface. Distressingly, several of the gifts from last year’s seniors — all signed and autographed — were nowhere to be found. Though the community room had been stolen from and messed up before, this time it was worse than anyone had ever seen. As we were all struggling to take inventory of the mess, First-Year Trips co-opted the room to use as storage for suitcases, further cluttering it. 

At this point, the room was rendered completely unusable. Whereas in years past, First-Year Trips had at least some space for us, nearly every square foot was covered in suitcases and the scattered remains of the old community room. Such an incident demonstrates the dire state of Asian American spaces at Dartmouth. Overlooked, underfunded and marginalized, Asian American communities on campus have been made second priority for far too long. I argue that it is about time that the College seriously invests in Pan-Asian spaces.

When I speak of “Pan-Asianness” here, I am referring to a shared experience of diaspora, identity and otherness that exists among Asian Americans and children of immigrants. “Asian American,” in this context, is an umbrella category which subsumes a diverse array of ethnicities, nationalities and cultures not limited to East Asia. Growing up with the inevitable experience that accompanies that identity, “third culture kids” constitute much of the Pan-Asian community at Dartmouth, a community which all too often gets ignored and underserved.

Asian Americans make up 22% of the Class of 2026, nearly one in four students. While it might seem as though the scope of the Pan-Asian community at Dartmouth demands significant institutional resources, there is little to be found. The most glaring absence is the lack of an Asian American studies program at the College; though all of the other Ivies either have a program or are building one, no such program exists at Dartmouth, despite the decades of student activism for it. 

In addition to the lack of academic space, Asian Americans have been given next to nothing in the way of physical space. To be fair, there is indeed the PAC room, but it cannot comfortably fit more than a handful of people at a time. There is also an Asian and Asian American Living Learning Community, which shrunk by half and lost its live-in program coordinator after the COVID-19 pandemic. For a community which makes up about a fifth of campus, these spaces are woefully inadequate — the LLC only accommodates six students, while meetings in the community room usually overflow past the door and into the hall. Other spaces which could potentially serve the Pan-Asian community, such as the Chinese Language House, only represent one part of the diversity of Dartmouth’s Pan-Asian community and do not necessarily cultivate an Asian American membership. This is not to say existing Asian spaces such as the CLH ought to be converted to Pan-Asian ones, but it does point out the dearth of the latter. Although the school has proven it is capable of developing permanent, accommodating physical spaces for marginalized campus groups — the Shabazz Center, a space for students of African or African diaspora descent, is a great example — it has not extended comparable resources to Asian American students. Yale University, on the other hand, has a three-story Asian American Cultural Center.

Even at the basic level of advising and institutional programming, the school gives Asian Americans the short end of the stick. Existing resources, such as Pan-Asian Student Advising through the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, are severely understaffed and underfunded. Consider that OPAL only has five to six full-time staffers for a campus of several thousand, yet somehow, this staff is supposed to represent every single marginalized community on campus at once. These advisors simply cannot work effectively in such conditions. Wherever one looks, one finds Asian American students at Dartmouth neglected, without the resources they need and deserve.

This negligence becomes criminal when one considers the urgent need for safe spaces for Asians and Asian Americans on campus, especially post-COVID. It was only last year that a Pakistani Ph.D. student was physically attacked on Main Street and several others verbally abused. Denying the Pan-Asian community proper support only allows anti-Asian hate to continue to erode what little sense of security Asian American students have left. Indeed, the attack was just the latest instance of a historical trend of anti-Asian hate at Dartmouth. Other incidents have included racist emails mocking then-President Jim Yong Kim in 2009, and a comic strip in this very newspaper depicting an Asian American student with slant eyes and a rice hat in 2008, which has since been removed. Aggressions such as these are exacerbated when Asian Americans are not given the proper space from which to be heard and seen. 

As the depressing state of the community room shows, it is high time the College allocated more resources to our Pan-Asian community. My recommendation to President Sian Leah Beilock is to start with physical space. Move the community room to a spot where it won’t be trashed or made into temporary storage ever again. Consider creating housing options for Asian Americans that do better than an ever-shrinking LLC. Focus on building up Pan-Asian student advising, organizing official events for the Asian American community and educating students about anti-Asian hate. Finally, and perhaps most urgently, establish the long-overdue Asian American studies program. These are actionable steps we can take right now to lift up our Pan-Asian community.

In her inaugural address, Beilock proclaimed her commitment to “brave spaces” that “let that diversity of thought and lived experience shine through.” I can think of no braver, no more diverse space than our Pan-Asian community, a community which has endured decades of negligence but which has nonetheless endured and maintained its steadfast hope for a better future. Their voice is one which has been crying out in the wilderness for decades. It is about time that the College listened.

Ramsey Alsheikh ’26 is a staff Opinion columnist at The Dartmouth and a member of the Dartmouth Asian American Studies Collective. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.