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Recently, someone from the MN Private Colleges Council interviewed me because she’d heard I’d “had a good experience at St. Kate’s.” Indeed, I have. You all know how much I love my job. But… there’s still work to be done. I enjoyed sharing my stories and experiences with her, and think she did a great job weaving together a story that both celebrates progress and indicates that it’s an ongoing struggle.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, “Faculty Becoming More Diverse,” on the MN Private Colleges Council (MPCC) website:

Looking at the data, in 2009 MPCC institutions employed 465 faculty of color; a decade earlier it was 278. This increase of 67% compares to an increase of 27% for white faculty. While MPCC institutions have been able to recruit a more diverse faculty, the 9% non-white faculty still lags behind the state’s diversity — 15% — and the ethnic diversity of our student body — 13%.

Once non-white or underrepresented faculty arrive, institutional support is key to their success. “A lot of us are first-generation graduate students and junior faculty and we don’t have an ‘old boys network’ to support us in the challenges we face,” Park said. She is one of four Asian Americans in a department of 13 faculty and staff. “The diversity and collegiality in my department is great,” she said. “That doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges.”

During her first all-faculty meeting in 2009, Park was taken aback when another faculty member referred to a Chinese student as “Oriental.” “I was shocked that she didn’t know that that word was outdated and offensive,” Park said. When Park approached her afterward, her colleague apologized and the two had a great conversation, but Park knew “there’s still work to be done.”

Check out the full article:

http://www.mnprivatecolleges.org/newsletter/july-2011-newsletter/faculty-becoming-more-diverse

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I’m a strong believer that discriminatory, hurtful, racialized acts of violence (whether physical or psychological) demand a justifiably angry response. What I don’t believe, however, is that we have the right to act out our angry response to violence with violence. That is debasing and excessive, not restitutive, and leads to our legitimate voices being delegitimized.

Today I woke up to a Daily Bruin article stating that Ms. Wallace is receiving death threats in response to her anti-Asian tirade. While what she did was incredibly stupid, our responses should not match her level of idiocy. We should respond out of justified anger, but not out of hysteria.

I think the police should protect her and the school should let her reschedule her finals. There are likely people out there who are stupid enough to do stupid things if she shows her face on campus.

HOWEVER. I wonder if her video, as it elicited a strong response from Asian Americans, elicited a response from fellow, like-minded non-Asian students? Is it unsafe for Asian Americans to study at Powell Library? Personally, I would feel unsafe entering a space where white students can condemn Asian students, whatever their actions. I was overwhelmed by the burden of racial fatigue I suffered yesterday. I’m sure others, especially UCLA Asian American students, felt it too. Will the students who are negatively affected by this video and the ensuing discussions also get to reschedule their finals? Will I get to reschedule all the work hours I lost yesterday?

You might argue that we had a choice whether to study or work or be involved; however, this kind of racist behavior demands a response. Our silence would have condoned her behavior, perpetuated the passive Asian stereotype, and then it would have happened again. I’m actually very proud of my fellow Asian Americans – alumni, students, other concerned community members, even USC alum – for standing up in droves. We choose to speak. We choose social justice. We choose to stand up for the right for Asian Americans to study in a safe campus. And we demand that the administration listen and respond.

Please do not repost without my permission.

  • Chancellor Gene Block (chancellor@ucla.edu)
  • Vice Chancellor Robert Naples (rnaples@saonet.ucla.edu)

I emailed the following to Chancellor Block and Vice Chancellor Naples at 3P on Monday, March 14:

Dear Chancellor Gene Block and Vice Chancellor Robert Naples,

I am a two-time graduate of UCLA. I graduated with my BA in History and Asian American Studies in 2002 and earned my MA in Asian American Studies in 2004. I went on to earn my PhD and MS in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois in 2009, and am now an assistant professor at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, where I teach future librarians and advise the undergraduate Asian Women’s Association. The education I earned at UCLA was meaningful and served me well for my future endeavors. I am proud to be a UCLA alum.

However, I am incredibly upset at the recent video posted by current UCLA student Alexandra Wallace. Her hateful speech against Asian American students indicates that her education is failing her; if UCLA was providing Ms. Wallace with an education that “[fosters] open-mindedness, understanding, compassion and inclusiveness among individuals and groups,” then she would not have thought these thoughts and posted them so publicly on FB and YouTube. The way she states “our university” implies that she believes UCLA is a white institution and that Asians are perpetual foreigners undeserving of such an education. She also makes Asian Americans sound weak when she says that our parents have not taught us to “fend for [ourselves],” which perpetuates stereotypes that Asian Americans do not have any agency. Having survived not one but two graduate programs and snagged a job in a down economy, I’d say my parents taught me well how to fend for myself. Additionally, in light of anti-immigration legislation, the crusade against ethnic studies across the country, and ongoing hate-crimes against Asian Americans, it is imperative that educational institutions such as UCLA, home to one of the largest and highest ranked Asian American Studies programs in the nation, take a stand against such behaviors.

Again, I quote to you UCLA’s campus values: “We do not tolerate acts of discrimination, harassment, profiling or other harm to individuals on the basis of expression of race, color, ethnicity…”

Ms. Wallace’s video is an act of discrimination and harassment, an instance of profiling, and is harmful not only to Asian Americans but also to other students. If UCLA does not respond to this, your silence implies that you condone her behavior. As I’m sure you know, this tirade has sparked an enormous uproar from not only the UCLA APA community, but beyond. We implore you to take action.

With all due respect,

Sarah Park
UCLA BA History & Asian American Studies class of 2002
UCLA MA Asian American Studies class of 2004


Sarah Park, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of LIS
St. Catherine University
spark@stkate.edu
http://sarahpark.com

UCLA Asian Pacific Coalition students respond to the incredibly racist and offensive video (now taken down) posted by UCLA student Alexandra Wallace. The APC  response is well articulated, thoughtful, and assertive – well worth reading. Here’s an excerpt:

On Sunday, March 13th, an alarming video was re-posted on You Tube from the Facebook account of a UCLA student. The video, titled “Asians in the Library”, chronicled the student’s racist tirade against the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities at UCLA. Within hours, the video re-posted on various forms of social media, where members of the community viewed and responded to the video. The resulting reaction reveals an alarmingly dangerous campus climate and an underlying current of racism and prejudice still vibrantly alive in America. The Asian Pacific Coalition and API communities at UCLA would like to issue the following response:

In her public comment to the UCLA community, Alexandra Wallace expressed her concern about the “hordes of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school every year.”  On a campus that boasts a student population of 40% Asian Americans and Pacific Islander communities (API), Wallace’s comments are both insensitive and revelatory of the flawed mainstream perception of the API community.  Many view API’s as a uniform aggregate, thereby failing to acknowledge the diversity within the API community and perpetuating the view of API’s as the model minority and the foreign “they” who unfairly get accepted into “our” school.  Wallace perpetuates the “us” versus “them” rhetoric in her comments, thereby expressing distaste in API’s and an even greater anxiety that “foreigners” are taking over UCLA.

….

Hence, as a community, we demand the following:

1) We call for a public apology from Alexandra Wallace. Her words and actions are not in line with the UCLA Student Code of Conduct, which states:

“The University strives to create an environment that fosters the values of mutual respect and tolerance and is free from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age, and other personal characteristics.”[2]

2) We call for UCLA to take the appropriate disciplinary measures befitting of Wallace’s violation against the UCLA Student Code of Conduct  and UCLA’s Principle of Community, which states:

“We do not tolerate acts of discrimination, harassment, profiling or other harm to individuals on the basis of expression of race, color, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religious beliefs, political preference, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship, or national origin among other personal characteristics. Such acts are in violation of UCLA’s Principles of Community and subject to sanctions according to campus policies governing the conduct of students, staff and faculty.” [3]

3) We call for UCLA to issue a statement addressing this incident.  UCLA must demonstrate its commitment to a culture of diversity, respect, tolerance, and acceptance for all communities by standing against such acts.

4) We call for the UCLA Academic Senate to pass a requirement in the general education curriculum grounded in the UCLA Principles of Community.

Some Asian Americans created a remix video overlaying Ms. Wallace’s tirade with orientalist sound effects and lyrics. I’m not going to lie; it’s pretty funny.

Shifting gears: as someone who 1) graduated from UCLA with both a BA and MA in Asian American Studies 2) was involved in UCLA Asian American student life 3) worked at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and 4) am now a professor of Library and Information Science, I have the following to say:

  1. This tirade is race-based hate speech. There’s no rationalizing or explaining it away. It’s hateful.
  2. Students who exhibit such race-based hate speech are an embarrassment to UCLA and should be duly punished for their irresponsible actions.
  3. UCLA must respond. The situation – and we – demand it.
  4. Racialized hate speech perpetuates hateful behaviors. White lynchers spoke about hating black people before lynching. Hitler and his soldiers spoke about concentration camps before they built them. I’m not suggesting that Ms. Wallace is going to go physically hurt Asian Americans, but her hateful speech condones hatred towards a particular group of students, and people act out their hate in different ways.
  5. That Ms. Wallace even thought about this, recorded and then posted her YouTube video indicates a major fail on the part of our education system. Without inclusive, social justice curriculum in Pre-K through 12th grade, and mandatory ethnic and cultural studies courses in high school and college, these kinds of behaviors will persist. We’re not a post-race society just because we have a half black president. We’re obviously not there yet. Make ethnic studies mandatory.
  6. There’s nothing “American” about good manners. See The Ugly American.
  7. It really grieves me that Ms. Wallace located her tirade in the space of the library. I see it as my moral responsibility to make sure that libraries are safe spaces for everyone – white, black, Asian, differently abled, sexually whatever.  Librarians have the right to remove patrons whose words and behaviors pose a threat or are a nuisance to other patrons, whether because they’re talking too loudly on their phones or spewing hateful speech.

I just returned from participating in the annual Children’s Literature Association conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and while I will definitely be posting my thoughts on the conference, first, this:

One of the great things about my job (assistant professor teaching classes on children’s and young adult literature) is that publishers send me free books. This introduces me to an awful lot of great literature that I might not otherwise encounter, as well as saves me potentially hundreds of dollars per year. I’m incredibly grateful to all the publishers who have me on their lists, especially Lee & Low, Children’s Book Press, and Scholastic, and all the others who have sent me books because I’m on 2 awards committees (Jane Addams and Asian Pacific American), or just because.

Today I received a book that I think was not “just because” because there was no mention that it wanted to be considered for either award. The letter from the editor began thusly:

As a child armchair traveler, I passionately followed the exotic adventures related in books such as The Story about Ping… Exotic to me as a child (and still today), as I always have been captivated by reading about cultures and times different from my own, and places far from home.

This tells me that right off the bat that the author of this letter is white. While many of us can claim to love stories that depict cultures “different from my own,” labeling them as “exotic” immediately calls up Orientalist and fetishist sentiments. This was my first gut reaction.

As well, the fact that he cited The Story About Ping, which was illustrated by The Five Chinese Brothers illustrator Kurt Weise (see Schwartz, Albert V. “the Five Chinese Brothers: Time to Retire.” Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 8, no. 3 (1977): 3-7 and the response to it Lanes, Selma G. “A Case for the Five Chinese Brothers.” School Library Journal no. October 1977 (1977): 90-91) makes his Orientalist orientation a little more clear. The Story About Ping has been criticized for depictions of both animal cruelty and its Orientalist illustrations (slanted eyes, etc.), so a person who enjoyed that book’s “exotic” story probably does not examine illustrations or perspectives very critically. This situation reminds me of recent conversations sparked by Laura Atkins (“What’s the Story? Reflections on White Privilege in the Publications of Children’s Books“) and Zetta Elliott (“Something Like an Open Letter to the Children’s Publishing Industry“) as another clear example of the white-ness of children’s literature publishing; if there were more Asian Americans walking the halls of children’s publishing houses, this kind of language would not be used with such flagrant Othering.

My point in writing about this is to emphasize, in addition to how I read the white gaze through the editor’s word choice, but more so the importance of the editor’s introductory letter. I am an Asian American, and I am sensitive and react quite viscerally to the use of the word “exotic” because it is loaded with fetishistic, Orientalist fantasies of the white gaze on Asian Others; as a female, to me it signifies white males colonizing and hypersexualizing the bodies of Asian females (and yes, the editor is male). Others who are less sensitized to these words may not react the same to an introductory letter that describes an Asian culture as “exotic,” but I find it repugnant. As allies and advocates for healthy and non-fetishistic perspectives on underrepresented cultures, I hope you will not be okay with words such as “exotic.”

I have not read the enclosed book, and am not sure I will. I say that because the point here is not the book, but the editor’s letter and the impact it had on me as a potential reader, reviewer and promoter (since in my professional capacity I do review and promote books), so I don’t want you to criticize my criticisms based on not having read the book; it’s about the letter. I don’t have to read everything that comes across my desk, and a letter like that gives me a reason not to.

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