Students discuss the “Asian bubble,” campus social interactions


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Prof. Ji-Yeon Yuh discusses the trend of the “Asian bubble,” which she related to the historic segregation of Asian-Americans in U.S. communities. The event, held at Harris Hall, attracted about 100 students.

Jee Young Lee, Reporter

More than 100 students discussed the social phenomenon called the “Asian bubble” Thursday night during an event held at Harris Hall.

In “The Asian Bubble: Campus Culture,” Professor Ji-Yeon Yuh, who teaches Asian-American history at NU, introduced the college campus trend where Asian students tend to form tight-knit social circles, a tendency that she said can be traced back to historic segregation.

Yuh, author of the book “Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America” and a specialist in Asian diasporas, began the discussion by saying that social segregation, as shown in the lack of diversity within social networks and gatherings, occurs due to various deep-rooted factors, such as residential segregation. She said most residential neighbors in the United States are segregated.

Exclusive Asian communities and neighborhoods are not necessarily the result of their members’ preference, Yuh said. Chinatown is an example of residential segregation because Chinese immigrants didn’t necessarily want to live together when they came to the United States in the mid-1800s. Yuh said they were pressured to segregate themselves after suffering intermittent hostility and violence from the predominantly white population between the 1880s and the 1890s.

Yuh said Asian-Americans face a vicious cycle: Residential segregation leads to educational segregation, which affects profession and income as well as neighborhoods they can afford to live in. Thus, residential segregation results in social segregation.

Yuh related the topic of Asian-American history to students’ experiences at NU and said Asian-American students can interact with peers outside of their communities by pursuing their interests. She also said people of other races should try to step out of their comfort zones to befriend more Asian-Americans.

After Yuh’s introduction, Ding Wang, president of Pi Alpha Phi, mediated the discussion. He organized an activity where students moved to the right, center or left of the room to show the degree of agreement they had with a series of statements that mainly concerned whether or not they consider themselves part of the Asian bubble.

The most common explanation students used to rationalize their answers was that the surrounding population in their former schools heavily influenced their choice of current friend groups.

The event, organized by the Asian Pacific American Coalition and Pi Alpha Phi along with Kappa Phi Lambda and Sigma Psi Zeta sororities, aimed to help students share their experiences and enhance their quality of social life at Northwestern.

“We all felt that we were in an Asian bubble, but we had a lot of differences in why we think it came about, and how it came about for us personally,” Wang, a Weinberg junior, told The Daily. “Some people felt like we were forced into (the Asian bubble) as well … So I guess it’s the contrast that is really exciting to talk about.”

Wang said that as the president of an Asian-American interest fraternity, he strives to strengthen students’ identity as Asian-Americans so that they are comfortable enough in their own roots to interact with students of other groups.

Professor Yuh said in an interview with The Daily that the turnout of the event was great and student initiatives are crucial in inducing impact on campus culture.

“To come out and participate in discussion or at least listen to what other students have to say is a huge step forward,” Michael Choi, a Weinberg senior said. “Our Asian community is pretty segregated, so it’s important, I think, to come out and share these thoughts across these different groups within our community.”

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