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Asian student experience broken down in panel

By Claire Zhao

Section: News

September 25, 2015

A panel addressed generational conflicts and racial stereotypes that contribute to Asian students’ high expectations in their academic and social lives. The event, held at the Intercultural Center on Friday, Sept. 18 was titled “You are not your GPA: How race contributes to the stereotype,” and sought to normalize Asian student’s struggles through shared personal experiences.

The panel speakers included Professor Xing Hang (HIST), Dr. Aileen Lee, a psychologist at the Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) and two Brandeis students, Eric Lin ’16 and Coco Tivambulo ’16.

“We want to talk about the pressure we think we put on ourselves, how our relationships with our families and the traditions or values we have learned from our families can contribute to this pressure that we put on ourselves,” said Lee explaining the aims of the discussion.

The panelists discussed the internalization of external pressures and addressed how these pressures often relate to mental health concerns.

“The pressure we put on ourselves increases our risk of these mental health symptoms: anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, avoidance, missing classes, not wanting to face people for time periods,” said Lee who hopes that “sharing these stories with each other” will minimize risk.

Each panel speaker shared their own cultural backgrounds and personal stories about when they first became aware of certain pressures and how they reacted. The participants discussed the stress involved with Asian stereotypes, choosing occupations, the progression of parent to child relationships as the child ages.

One speaker detailed an experience in which they realized a large part of the reason they chose to raise their hand and be vocal in class was to break the stereotype that Asians are quiet. Many of the panelists and speakers in the audience could relate to the being compared to others such as their siblings, friends, celebrities and strangers who had a “High School Honor Roll” bumper sticker on their car.

The discussion often circled back to the importance of family origin, putting pressure on them to succeed in many frontiers of their life. Many reported putting too much on their plate, feeling the desire to micromanage and aim for perfection.

The participants stressed the importance of a support system, especially when external pressures are harming one’s mental state.

This event aimed to connect the struggles of individual students to a universal experience. The Xi Kappa Fraternity co-sponsored the event with the PCC.

Last week, at the Town Hall meeting with administrators, Jamie Wong ’17 asked a question about the university’s commitment to its Asian and Asian-American student population.

“We would like to mobilize and organize on our part but with the knowledge that there is genuine interest to have these conversations,” said Wong. Interim President Lisa Lynch responded, affirming that she is committed to diversity.

In an email to The Brandeis Hoot, Eric Shen ’16, President of Xi Kappa stated that he agrees “with President Lisa Lynch’s decision of emphasizing diversity at Brandeis.” Shen feels that Brandeis is already diverse. However he hopes for more dialogue between Asian-American communities.

“I feel like clubs are competing with one another for more members, recognition, etc. to the point where there’s so much tension between these groups that nothing gets accomplished,” Shen wrote. He hopes to see increased dialogue between the executive boards of different clubs so that they may work together to educate Brandeis students on the, “the different facets of Asian-American culture.”

Shen explained that Xi Kappa’s national philanthropy, the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (NAAPIHMA), has a mission of shedding light on the mental effects of pressures.

“The number one thing I believe is crucial is just opening a dialogue in order to find a common goal as [Greek Awareness Council] Xi Kappa has done with the Brandeis PCC,” Shen stated. After talking with Lee, both groups realized they had a similar vision to bring these issues out into the open, so over the course of a month, they arranged the panel, according to Shen.

In a follow up email with The Hoot about the event, Lee discussed wellness workshops the PCC has planned for the year. Lee said the NAAPIHMA contacted Brandeis discussed a workshop on Asian American students’ mental health.

“The group talked to me about the struggles they noticed in themselves and in their friends, and how we don’t talk about our struggles, and how this affects our wellbeing and mental health,” said Lee. Lee named “family pressures, cultural expectations and microaggressions” in classrooms as potential topics for the workshop.

“Many of us from Asian and Pacific Islander background don’t always feel comfortable sharing our struggles, for fear of shame and burdening others,” Lee reflected.

She believes events like last Friday’s panel are important because they help to “destigmatize mental health disorders,” and encourage students to speak up and ask for support. Lee hopes to see more of these conversations in order to “decrease the sense of isolation, shame and self-imposed pressure.”

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