What is your organization currently working on for the upcoming semester?Note: This interview was printed in the February 2008 edition of MAASU Focus, Vol. 2, Is. 5, p. 3.
The Asian American Student Organization (AASO) has been working on expanding our online zine (http://aaso-zine.livejournal.com), which acts as testimony for the voices and experiences of our students here, and publicizing the Asian American presence on our campus. We have written a proposal for an Ethnic Studies Dept. at Kalamazoo College and are working with other students of color to help put pressure on the college to give its students of color adequate resources. We are also bringing spoken word artist, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai to campus in the spring for a performance and workshop session.
What has been the most successful event in your organization's history?
We have had three very successful events on our campus in our short history. Last spring, our organization helped to bring Filipina feminist writer and professor, Delia Aguilar, and the activist-philosopher, Grace Lee Boggs, to our campus. Grace Lee Boggs was also given an honorary doctorate of letters degree at the 2007 Commencement Ceremony, and I had the privilege of introducing her on stage. AASO also sponsored an Ethnic Studies Rally last spring where 7 students spoke about the need for Ethnic Studies on our campus. At least 30 people, including the president of the college and other faculty and administrators, were present. We were widely publicized in the campus newspaper, The Index, and the theater department was so inspired by our words that they have made focusing on ethnic roles and diversity in their casting and curriculum a priority this year.
What has been your organization's biggest problem so far?
The biggest problem we're facing is a low membership and in spite of hard work last year, there is still a general campus-wide ignorance of Asian American issues and presence. We are the largest group of minorities in attendance at K College, but most of the focus on racism, prejudice, and diversity becomes a black/white issue in the eyes of the administration and even the students. Many APIA students either transfer out or suffer through four years at this institution, and many of us have experiences of racism or being singled out by the professors in our classrooms.
What steps have you taken to solve this problem?
Danielle Trierweiler, K'07, and myself formed the AASO last year to try to confront and publicize these issues. While the campus is generally more informed about APIA issues and discrimination than in the past, we are still only a handful of students and our voices are limited. We are using them as much as we can though. Many of the new, first-year, students are unfamiliar with Asian American Studies and issues. I have been training two of them in how to run an organization on our campus, as well as lending them books and online resources to help them vocalize their experiences as APIA students and hopefully, to continue our work for the next generation.
Why did you decide to become a leader in your APIA community?
I became an Asian American leader on my campus out of necessity. I have personally experienced racism and discrimination in my classes and on K's campus over the past four years, and I believe that Kalamazoo College can do better than this. I intend to make sure that they do as much as I can while I'm here, and I want my fellow APIA students now and in the future to be able to have less painful struggles in their educational environment. Our college's slogan is: "A fellowship in learning: At home in the world," however, for many students of color our time here has been more painful and more of a struggle because of institutionalized racism and white privilege than it should be. I took it upon myself to fight for my own rights as well as those of my fellow students because I couldn't stand by and let the future APIA students of Kalamazoo College come in blind-sided and without any resources and minimal support like I did.