Last Monday, the Asian American Cultural Center hosted SPEAK, an event that served as a “community forum for students to share thoughts and experiences, listen to those of others, and address the events of the past week.” Over 200 students congregated at the AACC, some Asian and Asian American and others white allies and other people of color, lining up past the door to enter and filling up all three overflow rooms. “This place is so packed, there were people lined up outside like this were a fraternity party, except this would be a fraternity party where everyone is allowed inside regardless of race,” Asian American Studies Task Force Co-Chair Alex Zhang ’18 posted on Facebook. The large groups broke up into smaller groups and dispersed throughout the house, starting discussions led by AACC staff.
Specific questions were asked of the group to direct discussions, but discussion leaders made sure to note that they would not record any of the experiences that students would share, only concrete solutions for moving forward. They emphasized that they wanted to make the space welcoming for all the students, especially for students who had never been or rarely been to the AACC.
Most students began by expressing their confusion and apprehension at the current campus situation, unsure of their place in it. They didn’t know if their Asian or Asian American identity made them allies or people of color, as the racism experienced by Asians and Asian Americans was substantively different from the racism experienced by black students. Some students even mentioned that they didn’t identify as people of color until they had come to Yale. Susanqi Jiang ’19 noted that her workshop at the tenth annual Asian American Students Alliance Political Action and Education Conference was on Asian Americans in the black-white binary. Asian Americans try to move towards the white side of the binary, attempting to assimilate and thus perpetuating the silence typical of many Asian Americans.
Some students suggested that the “model minority” stereotype was a positive one, representative of the success that many Asian Americans experience in the United States. Other students argued otherwise, explaining that while Asian Americans may appear to be more successful at times, the stereotype also classified them as weak-willed and submissive, creating a “bamboo ceiling” that prevented mobility to leadership positions in companies.
One freshman expressed her worry that speaking out against the microaggressions of her suitemates would undermine their suite dynamic. A student from the drama school, meanwhile, argued that the oppression experienced by Asian Americans was akin to a colonization of the mind. “Each time you feel that you are being oversensitive at racial microaggressions, that is white supremacy at work. You have to speak out.”
Sara Tabin ’19, a white ally who attended to show solidarity, found the conversation enlightening. “It was interesting and enlightening to get to listen to my peers of color talk about their experiences and thoughts on the current issues. I felt it was not my place to do anything but listen because it is such an emotional time.”
After the discussion of Asian American identity in the racial binary, students speculated on concrete steps to move forward for the AACC and the Asian American community at large. Attendees emphasized the need to highlighting how Asian Americans should articulate their specific expectations to the administration. This comes in the wake of a closed-door meeting between Yale President Peter Salovey and 50 students of color, during which just one Asian American made an appearance. A teach-in on Asian American issues is now in the works, tentatively scheduled to be held on Wednesday, November 19.
While Yalies’ experiences with racism are wide-ranging, the students at SPEAK reached a consensus: Asian Americans could stay silent no longer.
We need to SPEAK out.