By McKenzie Collins and Julia Duggan
The Asian American Association (AAA) hosted a multiculturalism event over Zoom on Tuesday, Sept. 15, which examined identity and what it means to be a person of color.
The event featured numerous topics, including potential initiatives for inclusion at the College. This event was cosponsored by Barkada, the Chinese Student Association, the Japanese Student Association, the Indian Student Association, the Pakistani Student Association, Union Latina, the Black Student Union and PRISM.
“We have the same mission. We have the same experiences and struggles at the end of the day,” said Crystal Tran, a junior psychology major. “Because we’re all minorities, we kind of wanted to have an opportunity for us to come together and share all of our struggles and talk about it in an open space.”
Sparking from a desire to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, these students leaped into action. Particularly concerning equality and inclusion gaps in the College’s community, the activists raised multiple concerns about how administrators have handled discrimination on campus.
“We’re trying to move forward the conversation,” said Hannah Kang, a junior psychology major. “You may struggle but we will be here trying to support you as we can being part of a minority community.”
The College has recently introduced a network for bias incident reporting as a response to the series of anonymous Instagram pages created in July that share stories of racist incidents. However, the students pointed out that any response from the College administration was postponed until mid September.
“You can say a billion times that you are all for diversity and a safe community for your minority students,” Tran said. “You can say that all you want, but at the end of the day you have to make these changes.”
In response to the anonymous posts, the College’s administration created a series of events that celebrated diverse backgrounds and prompted discussions of racial justice. Several of the events took place within the same week that the email addressing these posts was sent to the student body.
Attendees expressed their grievances with fast-paced responses, claiming that it was set up for failure and neglected to provide a long-term solution for their mistreatment. Many students contended that the support from those in power often dies out after they are scheduled, leaving student organizations to advertise and run the events without administrative support.
“We can do everything we can, but it’s the choice of the people in power to listen to us and apply it,” said Gwen Peralta, a senior English major and representative from Barkada, a cultural organization for Filipino students.
The clubs’ proposed steps to improve the experiences of students of color included the implementation of mandatory learning with credit incentives. Incoming students already complete modules on sexual assault, alcoholism and drug usage, along with a 099-level course designed to integrate them into campus life. This introduction of racial bias training should, according to club representatives, include personal experiences from other students, as they will be more likely to inhibit moral action.
“We would give our opinion and we would give our advice, but where is the change that we wanted?” asked Eisa Casaclang, a junior psychology major.
In addition to concerns regarding intolerance, the students at the event discussed the lack of participation from faculty members in the bias conversation. Club representatives expressed frustration over faculty expressing they do not need to be educated to the same extent of the students. The club representatives believe faculty should receive at least the same amount of training as the students.
“In a way it has come to my realization that TCNJ, in some aspects, seems to collect the minorities,” Tran said. “We are collectors’ items that they put on a shelf and then they show off to the world and say, ‘Look at all the things we have, look at the groups that we have, and how we represent them, and look how happy they are and look at what they do.’”
The event gave way to insightful discussions on discriminatory voting practices, universal healthcare and mental health. For voting rights, the group looked at voter suppression, health and safety of voting, the unfortunate lack of understanding how to register and the common mistrust in younger generations in the effectiveness of their vote.
“Voter suppression is destroying our democracy,” said Lex D’Andrea, a junior political science and international studies double major, at the event. “I think when it comes to our generation, oftentimes we don’t vote as a result of just apathy towards the system and a lack of civic education in high school. But in some places the problem is extremely systemic.”
Representatives also addressed the mistrust between doctors and people of color, the need to find a way to lower hospital costs in general and introduced the notion that increased screenings should be implemented at medical schools to reduce biases in the medical field. In terms of mental health, the participants discussed the generational influence of social media, cultural viewpoints on depression and the stigmatization of medication.
“There has to be a better process,” Tran said. “I’m just not seeing enough change in the amount of time that has passed.”