Asian Pacific Student Coalition & United Minorities Council | Breaking the silence

Guest Column | Why have we become numb to sensitive issues?

· November 8, 2012, 6:50 pm

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We applaud second-year Graduate School of Education student Dephanie Jao for sharing her story in the guest column, “Hunting for Asians.” No one should ever be made to feel like a mere item on a scavenger hunt list. No one should have to physically defend herself against strangers who singled her out based on race and gender.

While games like this may initially appear harmless, their ultimate effects should not be trivialized. Dephanie was left questioning how her Asian identity had primed her as a target in a game. In a time when it is easy to feel judged for coming forward with race-related incidents, we understand the strength it takes to be in the spotlight.

We hope Dephanie’s resolve will encourage others to do the same. Too often, men and women from all different backgrounds find themselves facing similar forms of discrimination. They struggle to find the line between what our society dismisses as hypersensitivity and what is considered a “genuine” act of racism. In the chaos of the moment, these discriminatory experiences leave them feeling confused and wondering: “Is this racist? Is this inappropriate? Should I speak up?”

In cases like these, should we — the Penn community — expect those who are courageous enough to speak out to simply “get over” the event? No.

Why should anyone have to “get over” an experience in which he or she was left feeling less than human?

While the motivations of the planners and the participants of the racially charged event remain unclear, we know that a student was forced into an incredibly uncomfortable situation. Have we really become so desensitized to these types of incidents that we are willing to dismiss them? Given that we are all entitled to a certain standard of dignity, such objectification should not be accepted. This type of understanding mindset will allow Penn to uphold its tradition as a campus that welcomes a diverse student body.

Individuals hesitate to reflect on these types of acts, thereby posing a challenge to this tradition. They fear their experiences will be devalued in light of supposedly worse situations.

Sharing experiences, despite those challenges, is the first step towards counteracting problematic social standards. However, the onus is not solely on the individual to come forward. Instead, we must also see ourselves in others and recognize the parallels between various prejudiced, uninformed actions. Ultimately, maintaining an open mind will build empathy between individuals of all races, genders, sexual orientations and religions.

We admit it is difficult to speak up during a large scavenger hunt or in any other group setting, especially among friends. No one wants to be that person who speaks up and ruins the party. But it’s that person that makes Penn what it is. It’s that person that creates tangible change on this campus, making it a safe space for all. We, as students of the University of Pennsylvania, need to work together to ensure that all students feel comfortable on this campus. So don’t just stand back and remain silent. Speak up and act.

Whether you share experiences in mass media or among smaller circles of friends, opening dialogue to individuals who do not typically engage in this type of critical thinking is important. Several open and safe spaces exist at Penn, but how do we expand those spaces to all parts of our University?

Student organizations strive to equip the campus community with the tools to deal with bullying of this nature, instead of allowing for frustration and confusion to persist. We work to promote awareness and prevent incidents such as Dephanie’s.

Numerous campus resources such as the Greenfield Intercultural Center, the Pan-Asian American Community House, Penn Women’s Center and Counseling and Psychological Services are available to listen to such stories. We collaborate on programming to discuss how these events affect our community and how to deal with such incidents constructively.

In response to Dephanie’s incident, we will be holding an event featuring Graduate School of Education professor Howard Stevenson. Please be on the look out for details of the event and email us if you are interested in attending.If you have any questions, please contact the Asian Pacific Student Coalition at chair@upennapsc.org and the United Minorities Council at unitedminoritiescouncil@gmail.com.

This column was jointly written by the Asian Pacific Student Coalition and the United Minorities Council.

It is signed by the Civic House Associates Coalition Chairs, College seniors Pallavi Podapati and Kenny Puk; the Fellowship for Building Intercultural Communities; College junior and Lambda Alliance Chair Hugh Hamilton; The Latino Coalition; Multicultural Greek Council Co-Presidents, Wharton junior Ashley Armstrong and College senior Jacqueline Baron; Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women Chair and College senior Adrienne Edwards; Penn Political Coalition Chair, College senior Isabel Friedman; Director of the Race Dialogue Project, College sophomore Nadia Laher and UMOJA.

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