“Coming together as a community, in solidarity and in number, seemed a natural part of the healing process.”

“We started discussing a forum or community gathering (virtually) in early May as hate crimes against the Asian, especially East Asian, community were rising around the world,” said Aman Goyal, associate director of student life for the Wharton Undergraduate Division. “Coming together as a community, in solidarity and in number, seemed like a natural part of the healing process, and we wanted to make sure our students knew this was something happening to an entire community.”

Led by Wharton Asia Exchange (WAX) with support from Wharton Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Group (WEDIG), Wharton China Association (WCA), and Wharton Korean Undergraduate Business Society (W-KUBS), student organizations teamed up with the Wharton Undergraduate Division to organize, “Being Asian in the U.S.” The forum provided a safe space for students to share their experiences and offer support for their peers.

Xiumei (Mei) Long, associate director for Wharton Undergraduate Advising said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the historical discrimination towards the Asian community to the forefront, which provides a good opportunity for us to center Asian voices. As a business school, we are very keen on building sensitive and inclusive business leaders, so it’s definitely something that we want our students to be aware of and talk about.”

Starting the Discussion

“Whether you’re born here or just arriving for school, we wanted to leave it open to [Asian] students to talk about what they were comfortable with,” said Aman.

The moderators kicked off the forum by asking attendees to fill out an anonymous poll. The results showed that microaggressions and other negative experiences with racism were not in isolation, which helped set some context for the event.

Students then talked about their personal experiences, from navigating their Asian identity growing up in the U.S. to more recent encounters with Anti-Asian sentiments due to the pandemic. Others offered advice on how to combat bias.

“Providing a safe space for students to speak about their experiences with microaggressions and harassment related to their Asian identities is a crucial first step towards combating these biases,” said Catherine Ruan, W’21, co-president of WAX and one of the forum’s moderators. “The attendees listened to the stories and provided validation that the discrimination in these stories is very real.”

“Through sharing stories, we can help Asian students feel less isolated and more connected as a community,” said Mei. “We also hope that the stories can help the non-Asian communities see the commonality in the struggles that each minority community shares.”

Identifying Next Steps

As the hour-long session started to wrap-up, the discussion transitioned towards identifying next steps for students personally as well as for Undergraduate leadership.

“Towards the end of the Forum, students expressed the need to continue these discussions and stand up to discrimination in their daily lives,” said Catherine. “Going forward, we hope that the Forum can play a small role in normalizing these types of conversations about identity so that they can continue happening outside of a formal event.”

WAX Co-President and moderator, Emily Fu, W’21 said, “I hope this event inspires people to listen and share more. We also wanted to provide resources for Asian students to be more engaged in the community and also provide support for other marginalized populations.”

The Forum concluded with a list of resources and a survey that asked students to suggest additional ways to help members of the Asian community as well as other marginalized populations.

“We really want the students to lead the conversation, but realize Wharton may not feel like the space for them to practice advocacy work. We want to change that in the Undergraduate Division by listening to students, leveraging our collective resources and power as a division, and working with the Dean and larger community to impact change across Penn,” said Aman.

— Erin Lomboy W’21

Posted: October 14, 2020

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