Diversity is something often talked about here at Ithaca College. Right now the College is going full-out on implementing series workshops and classes on “Microaggression,” which is the aggregated hurtful feelings amassed by non-physical interactions between people of different races. Because of the minority status at a predominantly white college, many minority students have felt they are always hurt by the innocuous or ignorant comments made by some of their white counterparts. Recently, students from Harvard launched a photo campaign called “I too am Harvard.”
This photo campaign has gone viral over the internet, it started on a tumblr website. More than 60 students from different ethnic backgrounds were interviewed across campus, each speaking their experience of being at Harvard. Here is the video from the tumblr website, for your convenience.
My initial gut reaction
I am not going to lie, but my first reaction when I saw these pictures was: Wow, these people go to Harvard? They look just like any other homeless black person on the street of New York City. But then I realized this clearly demonstrate how deeply rooted these negative stereotypes are in people’s heart. (Even though President Obama is a perfect example of minority excellence)
I do not go to Harvard, and it’s not hard to imagine what a typical white Harvard student would think when they see these minority students on campus, they must be wondering: “How do you get here?” “Why are you here?””Do you have what it take to be a Harvard student?”
A second thought was that, “Just because you go to a prestigious school, does that mean your opinions and voices matter more than the minorities who go to mediocre schools?” But after some serious reflection I realized that for a prestigious school like Harvard, they don’t have to worry so much about advertising to specific demographics like Ithaca College does, because they will always have enough applicants to keep their acceptance rate at single digital. Therefore the voices and the experience of minority are not highly valued and they are marginalized.
When we think of Harvard, the image of a white, upper class figure emerges in our head. We forget that these students in the campaign are incredibly talented black people, who worked extra hard to get into the most prestigious school in the world. It’s easy for us to attribute their success to “affirmative action,” but the truth is they have just as much to offer as everybody else. And we need to be constantly reminded of the discrimination and the repression they face and be an active allay and advocate.
For me personally, this serve as a great reminder of minorities’ capability to achieve academic excellence. And it makes me more aware of what comments could be unintentionally hurtful to minority students and therefore should be kept to myself.
What about other minorities, like asians?
Photo campaigns like “I too am Harvard” and “the real Africa: fight the stereotype” put up by Ithaca College students have received tremendous attention and mainstream media coverage. The latter one has been featured on CNN and on USA Today. Black has been the minority group that are relatively more outspoken about their negative experience and oppression. Asians, as another major force of minority, while also experiencing the same thing, probably to similar extent, have been rather reticent.
In 2012, as part of the focus Asia Month, Asian American Alliance at Ithaca College launched a photo campaign called “Misrepresented, we are not a stereotype.” That campaign has not received nearly as much attention as “the real Africa: fight the stereotype.” Sometimes we could think it’s because the opportune timing; sometimes we do have to think that if there is a preference of Black’s opinion over Asians’ opinion in the society; maybe it’s because of the conservatism and modesty in Asian culture, and a reluctance to fight the popular mainstream. But change has to come from awareness, and Asian will not have our unfair treatment vindicated if we don’t speak out.