Asian community discusses diversity issues during ‘Big Ass Asian Meeting’

Joseph Diebold

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Students from different Northwestern Asian and Asian American populations gathered at Harris Hall on Friday for the ‘Big Ass Asian Meeting’ to discuss what their role should be in campus conversations surrounding diversity.

About 75 students attended the meeting, which was sponsored by the Asian NU Project, a new student initiative advertising itself as “a movement to unite the Asian/Asian American community with the hopes of uniting the greater Northwestern community,” according to its Facebook page.

Weinberg junior Yehsong Kim, a member of the ANUP and the primary organizer of the meeting, gave a brief statement to those in attendance and showed a video of various students speaking about their Asian identities. She then instructed students to break up into small groups to discuss pressing questions about those identities.

Kim said the ANUP wanted to give Asian students a safe environment to share their personal opinions about their experiences on campus.

“We thought that the Asian community has never really been brought together,” she said. “We’re talked about a lot as the Asian community but actually it’s really split up between different groups, so we really wanted to open up a space where we could come together and talk about what it means to be an Asian community and the issues within it.”

The discussion questions touched on issues including segregation between Asian cultural groups and other student groups, as well as Asian students who feel like they have to choose between having all Asian friends or none at all.

“That’s something that clearly a lot of people here are struggling with, and I think because there is segregation, because we have groups based on racial identity, it makes it hard for students to be able to be a part of both Asian cultural groups and (also be) non-cultural students,” Kim said.

The segregation issue came up frequently in the discussion groups as well. Students expressed frustration with the difficulty of feeling comfortable in predominantly white groups on campus, such as Greek organizations. They also talked about cultural differences – many Asian cultures teach their children to be respectful and soft-spoken, one student said – that lead to Asian students’ being left out of conversations about diversity on campus.

Associated Student Government President Victor Shao attended the meeting. Shao said ASG needs to play a vital role in conversations like Friday’s forum.

“We’ve been talking about this all along that ASG is a support network and facilitator for bringing communities together,” the Weinberg junior, who is Asian, said. “We’ve been in talks with different groups on campus to ask big questions, and we’re still reaching out to a lot more groups to try and institutionalize a time where people can get together and talk about these things.”

Kim said the meeting was planned before the egging incident that occurred last Monday night, in which two Asian students reported that they were verbally assaulted and eggs were thrown at them. Although Kim said the event was supposed to be about “action” rather than “reaction,” the incident was still discussed. Dean of Students Burgwell Howard spoke at the end of the meeting, asking students to report any information they had about the incident to the NU Police Department.

Howard said the egging was “clearly a bias incident” and the University would be categorizing it as a hate crime. Weinberg sophomore Irene Tu, who attended the meeting, said she wished discussion of the egging incident had been more prevalent.

“I came to show my support for the community, and I really wanted to see what they had to say about the egging incident and how we could respond and take action so something like this wouldn’t really happen again,” Tu said. “I agree with what they said that we shouldn’t be all up in arms and get angry and throw a riot, but I feel like they definitely swept it under the rug.”

Shao said the ultimate goal needs to be making students feel comfortable having frequent smaller group discussions on these issues.

“That’s where you can get people to the point where they’re cognizant of these issues on an everyday basis and are comfortable and willing to speak up when there’s something like, ‘Hey, let’s plan an event and have Beer Oympics and dress up,'” he said. “When you can defuse that situation there, that’s when it becomes successful. Obviously there’s not really a barometer for success aside from ‘these things aren’t happening’ but having people be able to do that is where we need to get.”