Day 483, July 13, 2021

Reading the Room

Today's class was harder. I've been busy with many different things, and while I thought I had the class planned out, it wasn't quite water tight. Students are so perceptive, they ask the right questions to make you think deeper. How could I have made that question clearer? How could I have set up the assignment better? Am I losing some students?

The broader general topic is student success, but how are students defining success? As one student wrote, she hates the idea of there being one form of student success, because in her mind there are countless ways students can be successful that are not reflected in grades and graduation and other metrics.

I applauded her, because she is not only right, but I think maybe that might be the key to helping students. How do the students define success, rather than how is success defined for them. I think if students have a stronger sense of what they hope to get out of education, maybe they would have more reasons to be an active participant in that education and less tolerant of the things that are obstacles or less helpful in their pursuit of... success.

For this class I was trying to set up the assignment of writing a paper proposal. But, I think the assignment seemed too abstract. It is entirely possible that none of the students have submitted a paper proposal before. Many of the students were struggling to make the connection between their identity, their experiences with education, and how that might feed into a bigger topic. I found myself falling back on easy things like, Asian Men in STEM or something like that.

But, I also was struck by the memory to meeting the poet Garrett Hongo when he came to UMass Amherst when I was graduate student in the MFA program. I went to graduate school straight out of my undergraduate education that was heavily weighted in the canonized classics and rarely included any writers of color, let alone Asian American writers. I was working on filling in my absences through independent studies as an undergraduate, and with my courses as a graduate student at UMass, so it was exciting to meet and talk with Garrett when he came to read. 

After the reading, Garrett took me aside and invited me to walk with him for a little bit. Why did I choose to go to school here? He wanted to know. Why didn't I go to the West Coast?  I didn't know how to answer him, because the truth of the matter was, I didn't know how graduate school worked. I applied to two schools, both in Massachusetts, because that is where I grew up and I was wanted to get out of Tennessee. I didn't know there were reasons one would choose one school over another. I didn't know there was an alternative to what I was experiencing. Garrett was asking me how important being Asian American was to me. 

The truth was, I was still unsure. I was still learning. But I also had no role models. I had nobody that I knew that I could turn to and say that is someone who helps me see myself as the writer I want to become.  Of course, I adored all the writers I was being exposed to, particularly Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael Ondaatje, and later Kazuo Ishiguro, and so many others. But I had never met any of them. And when I did have a chance to meet an Asian writer, I was nervous and uncertain about my own identity and how I fit with someone else's vision of who I should be. I was nervous talking with Garrett and how he was testing me, seeing what I might be open to. I sometimes wonder what he would have said if I asked if I could go study with him in Oregon. But I didn't. I stayed in Amherst and learned lots of different kinds of lessons and had different experiences, but missed my chance to study with Garrett Hongo.

My students today are much more aware of their various identities, the heritage they bring as a Latina, as a bisexual, as an immigrant, as a person with mental illness. When I was growing up, I didn't realize the assets different aspects of my identity brought to my sense of self, they tended to be things I pressed tightly into a box, and maybe let loose only on occasion, on weekends, or when asked, but the rest of the time, I did not draw those aspects of self out into the open.

I was marveling at one of my students who wrote about learning about what LGBTQ+ was as a seventh grade student, and slowly over time recognizing her own identity as a bisexual, finding clubs in school, and a whole community of students who supported her growth into that identity. What a different environment some of our students are experiencing today! 

So for next class I have to be doubly prepared and make sure I can help guide the students past any confusion they had today. It needs to be one of those amazing classes so they don't lose faith in the process, in the trust they have gifted me with. 

I hope I can pull it off!

Take care and be well,

From Our Friends:

From the Korean American Data Bank:

On July 18, 2021, the International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG) will hold its bi-monthly Open Mic event via Zoom. The featured poet is Tanya Ko Hong (hyonhye), who will read from her book, The War Still Within: Poems of the Korean Diaspora. The event will take place on July 18, 2021 at 7:00 PM EST, live on Zoom. Admission is free. Click HERE to register. 

The War Still Within: Poems of the Korean Diaspora (Kyso Flash, 2019) is dedicated to “all the women everywhere who have lost their names.” This book celebrates the courage of women to speak their truth and acknowledges the suffering of those who never could. Part historical imagining of Japan’s so-called “comfort women” during World War II, part personal claiming of the poet's own experiences with immigration and motherhood, and part exploration of identity across two languages, The War Still Within weaves together two cultures and gives voice to generations of Korean and Korean-American women.

From Asian Americans Advancing Justice:

On June 9, President and Executive Director June C. Yang participated in a webinar with the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) about the role of journalism in solidarity between Black and Asian Americans. Panelists shared personal experiences and discussed how the past year has brought our communities together in previously unimaginable ways. Watch the recording here.
Stand Against Hatred was created by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliation in January 2017 to capture information about the increase in hate we observed in the months before and following the 2016 election. Since COVID-19 began, however, we have received many new testimonials of anti-Asian/Asian American incidents of hate and harassment.

As we state on the site, "By sharing what you experienced or witnessed, you can educate the public, empower others, show service providers where help is needed, and strengthen advocacy efforts for hate crimes response and prevention." We know that sharing these experiences can be painful, which is why we're so grateful for the brave individuals who continue to trust us with their testimonials.

If you or someone you know would like to share your experience, please visit today.

From HigherEd Jobs:

Creating Equity in the Workplace 
by Ann E. Austin and Sandra Laursen, Ph.D.

Woman in STEMAuthors in Residence, Ann E. Austin and Sandra Laursen Ph.D., share six strategies that institutions of higher education can use in working to make faculty experiences and outcomes more equitable. Institutions of higher education must respond to these complex problems with strategic and systemic approaches. They must tackle these problems on multiple levels and lean on multiple levers for change.

From the 5 College Center for East Asian Studies:

Teaching Democracy: Taiwan, Aug. 10, 1-3pm ET. Please join us for a virtual two-hour workshop on democracy in Taiwan. Jonathan C.Y. Sun, Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) Boston, will discuss democracy in Taiwan and Taiwan’s place in international affairs. This will be followed by a discussion on implementing Taiwan in social studies classes. Details and registration

Ties that Bind: Women’s Empowerment in Early 20th Century Korea, Aug. 12, 1-3pm ET. What role did Christian missionaries and the Christian church play in the empowerment of Korean women in the early 20th century? This is the essential question which will be discussed in this 2-hour virtual workshop led by Lee-Ellen Strawn. Details and registration.

From the MFA Boston:

Explore the art of illustration through collages by Ekua Holmes—artist, activist, and lifelong resident of Boston's Roxbury neighborhood—that reveal stories of self-determination, love, and community. Reserving tickets in advance is strongly recommended.


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