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Experiencing Deerfield as an Asian-American
Lynnette Jiang '18 Contributing Writer
May 23, 2018
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Over the past four years, the Asian Student Alliance has always seemed less cohesive to me than the likes of the Deerfield Black Student Alliance, the Gender Sexuality Alliance, or the Latin American Student Alliance. I attribute this to the reality of how Asians fit into Western society, a lack of cultural and ethnic representation in the faculty, and a lack of outreach by groups like the ASA. Some of these issues are harder to solve than others and may take generations. However,  some could be solved in a matter of months and could mean a world of difference to our school’s Asian population.

This fall, at a meet-and-greet with Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, author of Midnight in Broad Daylight, every person in attendance shared why they were there. I listened to students who were just plain curious, to some who wanted to hear another’s perspective on living in America as an Asian, to one student who related to the characters’ search for missing family members separated by war. I had known those who sat around me since I was in ninth grade, yet had never heard the stories they were now sharing in the presence of Ms. Sakamoto. In one dinner, I already had more opportunity to connect and bond with these students than I had over three years together. The members of the ASA deserve more events like these, to let them know that their stories, too, are important and worth sharing.

Where the news is filled with stories of the marginalization of groups represented by alliances mentioned previously, the ASA is a little more hard-pressed to find events to rally around; the oppression of Asians in America and Western society is less apparent. No one has ever looked at me and locked their car door, nor have I ever met anyone who denied my right to marry who I want to. I don’t have examples of violence and outward hatred that I point to and say, “This is what we have to unify against.” I believe that this lack of tangible oppression is one reason why our school’s Asian population seems so scattered, so divided, so detached from itself and its identities.

I will make two comments about this. I am glad, overwhelmingly grateful, that my face and my skin tone are not the ones targeted by the TSA or ones stopped by police.  However, the fact that the nightly news is not flooded with examples of my marginalization does not mean that I do not experience racism or deserve support. Regardless of what is going on outside Deerfield, our students still deserve a space to share and feel at home.

When the ASA was planning for its main event of the year, the annual Asian American Footsteps Conference, I struggled to find faculty advisors. By charter of the conference, all planners, participants, and advisors were to be those of Asian, Asian-American, or mixed Asian heritage. My search for an advisor boiled down to a list of five, maybe six, teachers, only two of which were of full Asian descent. One by one, each of them backed out. In the end, our official advisors were Ms. Hammond, who works in alumni relations, and Ms. Ott, Dr. Ott’s wife who has no professional ties to Deerfield. Although Ms. Hammond and Ms. Ott were incredibly helpful in all capacities, my search revealed something.

Credit: Maddie Lee

Where other students of color may find support in the administration and their teachers, I have never connected with a teacher over shared Asian ancestry. I am lucky that some of my best friends are also Asian and that I can share my experiences with them and that I have never been at a loss for a personal support system, but I was deeply saddened by this realization. New — and returning — Asian students look up at the balcony during school meeting and are hard-pressed to find teachers who look like them. There is no teacher-sponsored space for Asians to gather, no equivalent to the gatherings Ms. Young hosts in her apartment. The fact that students must plan gatherings ourselves sends a subconscious message to our school; it speaks to a lack of effort on the part of the administration, who, while choosing new hires, have not prioritized selecting faculty that a large percentage of our student body can relate to culturally.

DA prides itself on the fact that faculty are more than teachers, that outside of the classroom they are mentors, coaches, dorm residents, advisors, and confidantes. They are the familiar faces you were promised you could turn to when you left home for the first time as a freshman, the mentors that you trust enough to write your college recommendations. When students who are not a part of the majority (whether this is a matter of race or sexuality) cannot find teachers that they identify with, this reflects poorly on the claim that Deerfield students have a strong support system. I hope that in the future, our school will realize the importance of supporting the whole Deerfield student, prioritizing the exploration of one’s many identities that can extend beyond the classroom and athletic fields.

I recognize that the duty of making Asian students feel at home does not lie entirely with the faculty. As I conducted interviews this spring to search for next year’s ASA board, each student conveyed with me their disappointment at the ASA’s lack of an introductory event that truly welcomed new Asian-American and international Asian students. Each of them expressed that when they first stepped on our beautiful campus, they questioned their place here. At Deerfield. In a rural Massachusetts town. In America. I agree that an event next fall could do great things for the newest additions of DA’s Asian community, letting them know that they too are important, worthy, and have earned their place here just like everyone else.

Regardless of the lack of any call to action for the Asian community, the low numbers of Asian teachers, and a relatively inactive ASA for my first three years as a student, I have found ways to celebrate what being an Asian means to me. Despite all the ways Deerfield has to grow and improve, I have never been at a loss for good friends and meaningful relationships. Most of the memories that have most impacted my identity as an Asian were not administration-sanctioned or official ASA meetings. I encourage you all to find similar ways to support and share with one another, because any opportunities the school offers will never help, if you yourself are not willing to look for them.

My junior fall, I attended the “Chinese dinner,” a trip to a Chinese restaurant that the majority of the school’s Chinese population was invited to. Twenty of us sat around the table, sharing good food on a rotating Lazy Susan, laughing and cracking jokes in Mandarin. At ASA events held in the comfort of the Ephraim Williams with the scent of catered Thai Blue or China Gourmet wafting off of plates, dozens of Asian and non-Asian students sit on couches, talking and sharing. This April at AAFC, I felt more empowered than I ever have in my life to share a presentation on the realities of how affirmative action has affected me. My workshop concluded in an hour-long discussion, where the audience in turn each shared their own stories. And this spring in the library, I have sat for hours with my friends watching the Youtube videos that used to make me pee laughing, created by the likes of Asian creators NigaHiga, KevJumba, and WongFu Productions.

There is very little I would change about my past four years and I have made unforgettable memories. This is not to say that Deerfield is perfect, but I believe that the generations of DA students for years to come — Asian, black, Latinx, white, and more — all have something to gain from all feeling a little bit more at home with the support of faculty members and student alliances.