Let me just start out by saying that I am a 20-year-old female, adopted from Guangdong Province, China. What you’ll be reading is based off of my own experiences and opinions, so please don’t think that every minority student at EKU feels the exact same way. Instead, I urge you to learn what you can from my experiences and to ask your friends about their own.
Recently, I turned 20 and I’ve always struggled with being comfortable in my own skin and with my skin color. Almost everywhere I go, I stand out...I’m dif- ferent. Yes, everyone is different,
but it’s another thing when you know that people assume things about you based on those differences and then treat you differently based on their — most likely faulty — assumptions. So, maybe I’m not comfortable in my own skin and maybe people do judge me based on my differences or appearance, but if you walk around campus, you’re most likely going to see at least one other person that looks different. That’s why I chose EKU.
Backtracking to my previous life, my graduating class in high school consisted of around 170 students and we were anything but diverse. Our lack of diversity was so cringe-worthy that when the one black girl walked across the stage at graduation, several people in the crowd could be heard saying, “Oh, that’s black Ashley!” That’s what she called herself and everyone knew it. And, if you’re confused about what actually constitutes as diversity, it’s not two Asians and three black kids.
I hated high school, not just because the girls were mean and the guys were jerks, but because of the perpetual disappointment of walking into the classroom on the first day and every day after that, realizing you’re the only minority in the damn class. Add to that, I didn’t even understand why I was disappointed. And just for the record, I wasn’t disappointed because I hate white people. I was disappointed because I felt alone. I felt alone because there was not a single person in my class who understood exactly what it feels like to be treated differently based on skin color. Maybe I don’t quite understand what it felt like for Reese when he walked into a store and the shopkeeper kept an eye on him, because he’s a black kid walking into a store in a mostly white neighborhood. But I know exactly how it feels when people assume that I'm super good at math or that the only grade I’ve ever received is an “A” because Asians are “supposed” to be smart. When in reality, math isn’t really my forte and they just judged me based on the model-minority myth.
That was my past life, though my life at EKU is very different. I can tell I have grown as a person, and the already existing diversity has allowed me to become more comfortable in my own skin. For me, having other students of col- or makes a huge difference. I feel more relaxed and free to be my- self, not some distorted version of a girl wishing that most of the melanin in her skin would somehow spontaneously combust and dis- appear. Last semester, there was a particular incident in which I was really able to see my own growth. This directly stemmed from mutual understanding between me and other minority students in the classroom. During one of my courses, the professor made a racially charged comment, which upset some of the students in class. I understood exactly how the other students felt. It’s a shameful feel- ing of being targeted, offended, and helpless because you’re up against an authority who very well has the power to tank your grade. I faced a very similar situation in high school, except this time I wasn’t the one targeted. I ended up talking to the professor about the comment, not because I wanted to be some sort of hero, but because I didn’t want the next person to experience the same thing. Unfortunately, it didn’t change the professor’s opinion nor would his opinion probably ever change. He couldn’t see how his comment was offensive because he lacked the ability to place himself in another’s shoes and to recognize that he doesn’t get to decide what’s offensive to a minority. That’s one of the biggest problems I have faced as a minority student on campus and honestly, throughout life. Maybe someone doesn’t understand how or why something is offensive to a person of color or maybe it’s not offensive to non-minorities or a portion of the minority group. Either way, instead of trying to undermine the significance of the interaction or say the person of color was overreacting, why don’t people just accept that it was offensive to the person? Because at the end of the day their past and present experiences are different than yours and you should respect that. I think I speak for a lot of minorities out there: we’re tired of non-minorities claiming sole right to decide what’s offensive to us and what’s not. I think that’s one of the huge take-aways from this piece.
Although racially charged comments from professors and misunderstandings due to experiences feels like a major setback, there are aspects of EKU that remind me to keep moving forward. Today, tomorrow, and the day after, I will walk into class and see at least two other students of color; throughout the week, I will attend two classes taught by professors of varying ethnicities. As a student, my ability to thrive in a course significantly increases when I connect with a professor. Maybe the connection is because we are both adopted, maybe it’s because we both grew up in Ohio, but for the two classes taught by professors in the minority, it’s a mutual understanding of an everyday struggle of faulty assumptions and misconceptions, based on skin color that allows for a unique connection. So far, out of the 15 courses that I have taken at EKU, only one of those courses was I the only minority student. This semester, I have noticed (and maybe you have too) an increase in the amount of Asian-American students, which I have found quite exciting. As a minority of the minorities at EKU, it’s meaningful to see this growth, because it means I am a little bit less alone. As a minority student at EKU, I urge President Benson, the Diversity Office, and the student body, to celebrate the growth and accomplishments related to diversity, but to also be willing to openly address and to recognize the need for improvement, because that’s what makes EKU and its campus beautiful.