I’ve been an American citizen since birth and have lived in the United States my entire life. I even have a bit of a valley girl accent. Yet, because I’m visibly of Asian descent, in half of my conversations and interactions—whether verbal conversations or email communications—at Washington College, faculty and staff have assumed I’m an international student. Even more disappointing is the common assumption that not only am I an international student, but one from China.
International students from Asia severely outnumber Asian-American students at WC. That is not, however, at all an acceptable reason to assume the two populations share anything other than our physical appearance. It is also an insensitive excuse to cater to the more populous group more often. Asian-American history, culture, political discourse, and academic needs are distinctly different than those of Asian international students.
Not only are Asian international students and Asian-American students different, Asian international student populations and Asian-American student populations are far from internal homogeneity. For example, most Southeast Asian-American students are more prone to poverty, are more likely to be first-generation college students from refugee families, and are much less likely to graduate than Northeast Asian-American students or South Asian-American students. There are initiatives nationwide to disaggregate data collected about Asian-Americans for this reason, but tangible change can’t be made without disaggregating public perceptions of Asian-Americans—especially at institutions of higher education such as WC.
This inadvertent attempt at homogenization hasn’t only occurred with Asian and Asian-American students. Queer representation on campus has largely been propelled by gay representation. While “gay” is often an umbrella term for non-heterosexual people, it is neither ubiquitously accepted as a label of sexuality by non-heterosexual people nor a necessarily appropriate label for gender nonconforming individuals. As a queer woman myself, seeing queer representation simplified to gay representation is disappointing. Not all queer people are drag enthusiasts. Not all queer people represent themselves using the rainbow flag. Not all queer people fit within the digestible acronym of “LGBTQ”—an acronym that, in most common usage, assumes a too narrow and overly simplified scope of identity that queer people live within.
While I appreciate WC’s recent diversity initiatives, such as its recent hiring of a student worker specifically to evaluate diversity-oriented programs on campus, my disappointment and pessimism regarding progressive changes in the campus environment are rooted in the very core of these various programs: diversity.
This word is ultimately superficial. Touting diversity as the focus of various campus-wide programs only cultivates a plurality of perspectives and neglects to address the vulnerability and underrepresentation of some voices. Adherence to the “diversity” approach demonstrates a lack of nuanced, critical understanding of what students from marginalized communities need not only to thrive academically, but also to live comfortably at WC. The Office of Intercultural Affairs states that it is committed not to diversity but to inclusivity. Is the rest of campus?
Mai Do, junior