April's Diversity Forum: The Asian-American Experience

Lexi Justice '22
On the evening of April 22, the Davidson Day Student Diversity Council hosted its final forum of the year, focusing on the Asian-American experience. The call was powerful and emotional because the speakers not only gave insights on their experiences with assumptions and misunderstandings directed toward Asians, but also discussed the recent anti-Asian violence and increasing xenophobia due to the pandemic.
Head of School Pete Moore started off the forum by discussing his time working at the Chinese International School in San Francisco, where he first witnessed Asian hate. Later in the forum, Mr. Moore’s former colleague from the school, Jeff Bissell, who now serves as Head of School there, spoke in a pre-recorded video on how his school community is dealing with the recent peak in anti-Asian hate. Bissell said that the community has felt under attack since the pandemic hit, and that former President Trump's references to the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu” made things even worse. Noting that he is of Irish heritage, Bissell said he felt sure that if a virus were to originate in Ireland, people of Irish descent would most likely not be stigmatized like Chinese people are being stigmatized now. He also said that as the white head of school at an institution where the students are mostly Chinese or Chinese-American, he does not look upon himself as a “white savior.” Instead, he acknowledges that he is somewhat of an outsider who strives to be a supportive ally to school families and employees, and he recognizes that a school like his needs to perform lockdown drills regularly because the threat of violence is very real.  
The other educational professional who spoke in the forum was Rebecca Slaby, Executive Director of AMAZEworks -- an equity training and consulting company that works with schools throughout the country. Slaby told her personal story about how she was adopted into a white family and felt she was “cloaked in white privilege.” She always felt comfortable blending in with whites, but as she grew up she had to confront her “whiteness.” Constantly struggling with microaggressions, she recognized that her Korean ethnicity was the part of her identity that she needed to face. From the recent increase in xenophobia and anti-Asian violence, she said she felt fear for the first time while traveling after the Atlanta shootings in early April.
The alumni speaker in the forum was YY Xie, from the class of 2020. YY, who came to America from Singapore in 2016, described her move as “eye-opening.” YY, which is not her Chinese name, simplified her name so people could pronounce it, yet one time when she was placing an order at a restaurant, the cashier spelled it WW. YY noted that in college, all her friends are minorities, and that she only sees “one-dimensional friend groups” -- not because people of different races or ethnicities don’t like each other, but because people don’t feel that they understand each other. When discussing the current hate crimes occurring throughout America towards Asians, YY said “Society needs to be better.”
Junior Caitlin McGuiness spoke on her experience as someone who is ¾ Philippino and ¼ white. She said that as a child it was hard to figure out what race and culture she belonged to. She explained that in Philippino culture, it is expected that families eat dinner at the same time every day, and that social events like sleepovers are considered taboo. Such cultural differences were hard for her to explain to her friends. Caitlin also discussed times when she has been targeted for being Asian. One time, a boy asked her if she was fattening up her dog to eat it. Another time, a substitute teacher told her to erase her Chinese name off the board because she didn’t know what it meant. Caitlin’s stories proved to be some of the most poignant moments of the evening.
Another emotionally riveting speaker was sophomore Baeley Allenspach, who, like Rebecca Slaby, is from Korea and was adopted by a white family. “Asian is a part of who I am,” Baeley said, stating that she was always proud of who she was until she experienced bullying in Middle School. Her brother would try to protect her, but he could not protect her from words of hate. Even today, watching the news and seeing people who look like her getting attacked and assaulted causes her to feel fear. She said that she has a “fear of being in public areas,” which was a sentiment echoed by several of the other panelists. 
Rachel Toelkes, Davidson Day Athletic Trainer, also spoke on her experience being adopted into a white family. Rachel, who is part Chinese and part Vietnamese, always felt different around her white family, yet she felt white around other Asians because of being a member of a white family. Her mother raised her to take the question, “What are you?” as a compliment, based on the logic that people saw her as “different” or “pretty.” Recently, however, Rachel has come to understand that when some people ask the question, they are simply being rude. Like many others on the panel, she too has experienced her fair share of microaggressive insults. Kids from high school, she said, would ask her if she “swam here from China.” 
While the plights of other minority groups like African-Americans and Latino-Americans may be more visible in everyday news, the Asian minority also faces threats of violence and hate. The forum allowed the many non-Asians tuning in on the call to educate themselves as allies, and it allowed the panelists to express their thoughts and insights on the Asian-American experience, particularly in regard to the recent rise in prejudices toward Asians as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. 
Thanks to all who attended this forum and previous forums. The Student Diversity Council is already preparing for next year and forming new ideas to keep our community engaged, welcoming, and educated.