MN Faculty Becoming More Diverse

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 “I was shocked that she didn’t know that that word was outdated and offensive,” Park said.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:

Not Me!

Not Me! by Nicola KIllen

Yesterday my friend Debbie Reese (the scholar behind American Indians in Children’s Literature) blogged about a new picture book, Not Me! written and illustrated by first-time picture book author Nicola Killen. The book was published by Egmont in the UK and is available through both the UK and US Amazon market. Especially as a professor teaching a course on Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature, I had to see what this was about. Seeing the cover image on the left, I hope it’s clear why Debbie blogged about this, and why I also felt the need to comment. Unfortunately, for some reason Blogger keeps returning an error message when I try to comment on both Ms. Killen’s and Debbie’s blogs, so I’m posting my comments here instead.

In order to understand the context of my comments below, you’ll want to read Nicola Killen’s original post and subsequent commentators responding to that post, and also read Debbie’s post on the same topic. Only after will the following make sense:

I have been following this thread with great interest and am very much enjoying the conversations here.

As a graduate student at Illinois, I took a children’s literature course with Debbie Reese that strongly influenced the way I think about representations of Native Americans in popular culture. Now as a professor of Library Science, I invite Debbie every year to guest lecture in my classes and assign her blog as required reading, and my students are always tremendously influenced by her conversations with them. It is not just Native American mothers that might not pick up a book where a non-Native child “plays Indian” (however unintentional by the author and/or illustrator); as an educator, I might not purchase, assign or promote such a text. In fact, I’d use it as a teachable moment – I’ve already posted a link to this conversation on my course website for *Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature.*

I think the fact that Debbie is Nambe Pueblo and an educator with a background in American Indian Studies lends great credibility to her cause. I would hope that me being Korean American and having an academic background (both a BA and MA) in Asian American Studies would lead others to trust my judgment when I comment on similar issues. This is pan-ethnic alliance and strategic essentialism and should not be dismissed as “[presuming] to represent.” Therefore I take offense to the implication that dressing up in a kimono is harmless “play” when that same child might think that likewise dressing up in a grotesquely bucktoothed, squinty-eyed karate costume on Halloween might also be “play.” It’s a slippery slope, and one where I would exercise caution over liberty. Taking liberties in the name of freedom of expression seems culturally arrogant.

The suggestion that a Native child wearing a cowboy hat has the same effect of a white child wearing a Native headdress is egregious – this dismisses the centuries of genocide and discrimination suffered by Native Americans at the hands of mostly white people, and elides the power and privilege that white people hold in this country and others. While white people doing blackface is not exactly the same, I don’t think the connection is without merit. It stems from not understanding and respecting different cultures, and reducing them to entertainment and even mockery. And at the end of the day, as Debbie notes, if Native students are not doing as well as they could in school, partly because of the ways in which they are misrepresented and their culture is so liberally used as “play,” well then, does that not give one pause? I would hope that we would extend to those groups the same respect for human dignity that we want and expect for ourselves.

And finally, suggesting that Debbie has other places where she could channel her energy is absurd; Debbie is one of the most productive, hard working, and responsive people I know. Her work is incredibly important and has been cited by countless students and professors, organizations, libraries, museums, and who knows exactly how many blogs. She is well respected in the field of children’s literature, and her work has tremendous implications for the publishing industry, libraries, schools, and of course the universities and programs that prepare students to work in those institutions. Her ongoing engagement with Ms. Killen is one example of this tireless work.

I also very much respect Ms. Killen for being willing to engage with Debbie and others on this topic. If only others would likewise listen.

David Mura’s Letter re: The Wake

Posting the full text of writer David Mura’s response to Mrs. Foucault, with his permission:
Dear Ms. Foucault–

I think your reply to Karen Lucas and its critique of the xenophobia of certain University of Minnesota students was heartfelt and very much on the mark. As a result, I do believe you had the best of intentions with the satiric article. However, clearly to some Asian Americans, it didn’t come off the way I think you wanted it to.

There is of course a long history of satire being misread. Still I think the problems here involve more than just the usual problems with the genre. To my mind, in your satire, you perhaps failed to take into account the particular ways many Asian Americans experience how they are portrayed in this culture. In other words to write a satire concerning say white male fraternities takes place within a history of portrayals of white male college students that is quite different from a satire concerning Asian American students. But that difference in portrayal simply points to an even vaster difference in the experience of those two groups, both in the present and in terms of historical context.

For the white male college students, the portrayals of such students contain many positive forms where they are depicted favorably and heroically. But that’s not the case for Asian American students. As a result, it becomes very difficult for Asian American students to presume that a given satiric portrait may be ironic rather than simply another portrayal which relies on stereotypes to make fun and denigrate Asian Americans. This is because such satire presumes the existence of and knowledge of a positive portrait of such students, whereas, other than a few exceptions, such a portrait simply doesn’t exist in this culture.

In other words, yes, of course there’s a norm in our culture that everyone should be treated fairly and equally and satire in part works from this premise. But when it comes to the actual depiction of Asian Americans, this general norm is not practiced. The particular portrayals of Asian Americans are always either rife with stereotypes and sniggling putdowns (think of any comedy where an Asian American figure appears) or as secondary minor characters (Hawaii Five-0). There doesn’t exist a norm where Asian Americans can appear in comedy and not have their ethnicity and race be the object of ridicule on some level. Nor does any positive portrayal exist where there isn’t some nod towards a hierarchy where the white person will always be in charge. If people misread your intentions with your satire, well, it’s no surprise that they would presume it came from the same place as almost every other portrayal of Asian Americans that exists in the culture (except in those rare instances where Asian Americans are the controlling agent of that product).

All this is very complicated. But in another way my point is simple: You can’t expect Asian Americans to read a satire involving Asian Americans in the same way you might. You shouldn’t necessarily presume that you as a white person have a complete understanding of the ways we experience and interpret the world or your words, even though you might be writing with the best of the intentions. When I speak on the issues of diversity and race, I always tell white middle class audiences, “I am more like you than you think I am and I am more different from you than you think I am.” It’s generally easier for them to understand what I mean by the first half of that sentence than the second half.

In the end I do want to applaud you in your fight against the small minded ethnocentricism and the racial fears of U of MN students. The fact is we’re moving towards more and more diversity and greater global connections; if students want to prepare themselves for the world they will be living and working in xenophobia is not what will be required. I want to encourage your intentions. But I do think you wrote your satire mostly thinking of how a white audience would respond. I don’t think you really thought out how an Asian American audience might respond. And in a way, that presumption simply reduplicates the hierarchy you’re intending to dismantle since it assigns a secondary status to us as an audience.
all best —

David Mura, writer, author of Turning Japanese

[Updated Monday June 6, 2011 @ 12:08 PM] Also with permission – Karen Lucas’ letter re: The Wake:

News short from The Wake Magazine: not funny?
The piece has clearly hit a raw nerve, an effective tool of satire. Whose funny bone it hits is another matter. If Alexander Wallace (the uber bimbo from UCLA library U tube video) and friends are your target audience, they are rolling on their trailer home floors wetting their thongs. Your article painfully reminds us of the glass ceiling that allows Schwarzenegger to have governed California and Nils Hasselmo to preside over a major university but points to the reality that anyone with an Asian accent is speaking something as career enhancing as Ebonics. This piece is the most effective advertising endorsement you could give Chilly Billy’s and if I were them I’d frame it and hang it on my store wall next to that first dollar bill. For something so funny, why does it feel like water boarding?

Karen Lucas

Response Letter to The Wake

Article in The Wake

An Open Letter to The Wake student magazine and Campus Progress

*Do not copy or repost without my explicit permission.

Dear Student Writers at the Wake Student Magazine and Campus Progress,

My name is Sarah Park and I am an assistant professor at St. Catherine University. I have a BA in Asian American Studies and earned my MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA, where you might know that recently a white student made a racist YouTube video about Asians in the library. I spoke up against that situation and now I am compelled to speak up against this situation: a couple days ago I saw your article titled, “White Students ‘Just More Comfortable’ at Chilly Billy’s” in The Wake.

I am very offended by the implicit privilege and explicit racism depicted by this article, and The Wake’s publication of such an article, for the following reasons:

  • Student Sarah Johnson is reported to have said, “Well, at FruLaLa I don’t even know if they speak English. How am I supposed to get normal frozen yogurt if I don’t know Chinese, right?” Ms. Johnson’s statement regarding her lack of fluency in Chinese betrays her ignorance of Asian cultures by conflating Chineseness with Koreanness – FruLaLa is owned and operated by Korean Americans. Regardless of who owns or works at FruLaLA, FruLaLa employees speak English and are perfectly capable of communicating effectively with all patrons.
  • Ms. Johnson’s use of the word “normal” shows her white privilege in being able to define what is “normal” and implicitly then what is not “normal.”
  • The article posits whiteness against non-whiteness, and particularly against Asianness.This kind of binary thinking is harmful, unproductive, and does not lead to social progress, social understanding, or social healing. Rather, whether spoken in jest or in truth, articles such as this perpetuate racism, xenophobia, and misunderstandings among society.
  • Patronage at frozen yogurt shops is diverse. The Pinkberry crave, begun in Los Angeles several years ago, testifies to this. Your article suggests that prior to Chilly Billy’s, frozen yogurt was not socially accessible for whites in the midwest. Perhaps that has more to do with campus climate perpetuated by attitudes and articles such as this than it does with the ethnic and cultural background of frozen yogurt shop owners. Minnesota is still in the top 15 whitest states in the nation, and white enrollment at UMN is at 72% while Asian enrollment is 9%.
  • Given the recent uproar over KDWB’s racist song about Hmong people, the xenophobic tendencies in our national politics and immigration policies, and ongoing hate crimes against non-whites both locally and nationally, it is socially irresponsible for The Wake to publish such racist views. I would add that, further, it is financially irresponsible as small businesses continue to struggle in this economy. Publishing an article criticizing a small business with racist views can do irreparable financial damage.

The publication of this article does not align with Campus Progress’ goal “to promote progressive solutions to key political and social challenges”; in fact, it does exactly the opposite. Freedom of speech and editorial freedom are one thing, but articles should still be guided by Campus Progress’ mission is to promote progressive solutions.” I completely disagree that this is merely a “controversial or offensive opinion,” as a CP representative wrote in response to a colleague’s letter (on this same issue). In fact, this article is outright racist and has no place in a progressive media outlet.

I recommend that The Wake issue a public apology and develop a process to review articles prior to publication. I honestly don’t believe that a media outlet would not review articles for grammar, quality, and style, much less for content. If these actions are not taken, I urge Campus Progress to pull funding from The Wake since it clearly does not align with CP’s mission.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sarah Park, Ph.D., M.S., M.A.
Assistant Professor at St. Catherine University

UPDATE 4:42PM Campus Progress’ (Unsatisfying) Response

Prof. Park,

Thanks for your feedback. Our program supports progressive media outlets, which may occasionally present controversial or dissenting opinions. We believe in the editorial freedom of our grantees and do not review any work before it is published. Feel free to email us back if you have further questions or concerns.


David Spett

Journalism Network Associate

Center for American Progress

1333 H St. NW, 1st Floor

Washington, DC 20005

202.481.8202 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            202.481.8202      end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Campus Progress’ Journalism Network: Supporting and training the next generation of progressive journalists.

Racial Fatigue

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.