responding to racism in higher education

Jay Chen, a reader who is on the Board of Education of the Hacienda La Puente School District in California, has written a really good blog entry on the selection of Dr. Jim Yong Kim as Dartmouth's new president, and the ensuing racist reaction, as well as the recent general trend of anti-Asian incidents at some of the nation's elite universities: Race at the highest levels of education.

Speaking of the incident at Dartmouth, students representing the New York City Asian American Student Conference have crafted their own response to the racist email that was circulated after Dr. Kim's appointment:
Earlier this week, Dr. Jim Yong Kim was announced the 17th president of Dartmouth College by its Board of Trustees, making him the first Asian American individual to hold the presidency of an Ivy League institution. This momentous occasion is a cause for celebration in not only the circles of American higher education but in the Asian American community as well. Dr. Kim's distinguished professional history in the non-profit health sector, his leadership in the World Heath Organization's fight against HIV/AIDS, and his experience as a researcher and educator make him an ideal role model for young Asian Americans. The board of the New York City Asian American Student Conference (NYCAASC) would like to extend its sincerest congratulations to Dr. Kim.

It is unfortunate that an event that should invoke pride in America's diversity was immediately greeted with ignorant and hateful commentary. Generic Good Morning Message (GGMM), the daily Dartmouth email update, was intrinsically tasteless, socially and culturally insensitive, and harmfully racist. Under the flimsy guise of satire, the author attempted to pass off statements that ridiculed immigrants by likening the accomplished humanitarian to a democracy-hating "Chinaman" and mocking his ethnic heritage through hate speech that has permeated our history. Particularly disturbing was the underlying assumption that all people of Asian ethnicity, regardless of their upbringing or accomplishments, should be viewed as outsiders and a threat to a fictional racially-homogeneous United States.

While we applaud GGMM's timely apology and willingness to attend diversity training seminars, this incident is an indication of a deeper, more troubling issue. In recent years, there have been similar incidents across college campuses (such as the University of Colorado's 2008 press article,
"If it's war the Asians want," written by Max Karson) - and the problem is not being addressed. This disturbing trend becomes increasingly clear as Asian American attendance in higher education institutions continues to grow. The alarming reality is that while the immediate controversy is generally resolved by getting the offending party to apologize and/or attend educational workshops, racial stereotyping of Asian Americans is still often condoned without questioning. Most derogatory comments made about people of Asian descent are often considered to be relatively humorous and are not condemned as gravely racist - we must ask ourselves, why is this so?

We must spread awareness about issues in order to combat bigotry within our community. It is not enough to acknowledge that this is an issue, have it be swept under the rug, and watch it recur. NYCAASC calls on all individuals to take a more proactive stance by empowering themselves through education and by challenging assumptions so that these incidents will no longer persist.
The New York City Asian American Student Conference is an annual gathering dedicated to promoting awareness of APA issues and history among young activists, organized by students from New York University, Columbia University, Hunter College, and Fordham University. To learn more about the 3rd annual conference on April 18th, go to the NYCAASC website here. (Thanks, Eric.)

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