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Asian-American women support group offers outlet for marginalized identity

Beloit College

No one would disagree that Macy Tran’17 is involved on campus — she has several jobs, regularly attends numerous clubs and organizations and takes a heavy courseload — but as an Asian-American woman, she realized she didn’t have a space that felt like hers and that validated her identity. So she created one for herself — and one she could share with other Asian-American women on campus.

I felt that I didn’t have a racial community that I belonged in that shared similar experiences to me as an Asian-American woman,” Tran said. “I was struck by that Asian-American women on this campus (in my experience) are not considered women of color and are delegitimized as such on this campus.”

According to the official mission statement, the Asian-American Women Peer Support Group “is for self-identified Asian-American women who are looking for an intentional, supportive space to engage in a mutually respectful, trusting, and loving way on ideas and issues that affect Asian-American women.”

After forming late into last semester with facilitators Tran and Rosalind Vang’19, the group started up again this semester. Their first meeting was on Saturday, and Tran will be facilitating this semester with Emma Peterson’18 every other Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Maurer Link.

This is the fifth peer support group formed in the past year under the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness, after a pilot group for First Generation and/or low income students formed last spring. According to the National Center for Education Statistics for fall 2014, the most recent data available, two percent of Beloit College students identified themselves as Asian, with no option for an “Asian-American” category. The other groups include the Black women, Disability, and Sexuality and Gender peer support groups, “with more anticipated next spring,” Paul Dionne, who serves as Inclusive Success Coordinator for the OADI, said. Dionne, who responds to student interest, collaborated with Tran and Vang to get the group off the ground. “The student facilitators are trained by OADI and are permitted to set the group’s agenda, while still receiving support from me as the coordinator,” he said.

In brainstorming the group, Tran talked to Anthropology Professor Jennifer Esperanza, who said this was the first she’s heard of any community explicitly created for Asian-American women on campus.

Tran, who is a Health and Society major with a double minor in Critical Identity Studies and French, has thought a lot about the roots of this problem, which she relates to the ways systemic racism and white supremacy function on this campus.

Asian-American women’s experiences are absolutely silenced on this campus,” she said. “Because Asian-American women widespread are generally not perceived to be people of color, there has been a conflation of the Asian-American experience into whiteness. If they are not conflated to be white on campus, then they are lumped in with international students, where the perception is they are explicitly foreign and too Asian.”

These perceptions are perpetuated, she said, largely because the campus lacks an established Asian-American community. “This fragmentation further facilitates the silencing of Asian-American women’s experiences and histories,” she continued.

“I certainly hope it has a positive influence on Asian-American women on campus! Or really, I hope that it has inspired all marginalized women in general on campus in creating their own intentional community if they feel out of place.”

Grace Gerloff’19, a regular participant of the group, has had similar experiences with her identity. “Many POC [people of color] often refer to other POC as ‘brothers and sisters’ and yet, I do not feel this connection as I didn’t consider myself to be a person of color growing up because no one ever told me I was or what that meant. This group is a place where I can begin navigating an area of my life that I have allowed to be silenced,” she said.

As someone who has been exploring what it means to be hyphenated Asian-American, I’m realizing that I live in a society that puts being ‘Asian’ and being ‘American’ at conflicting and contradictory points with one another,” Tran said. “The unique experiences of Asian-American women (adopted and family-immigrated) have been erased both on this campus and throughout history. I wanted an intentional community that creates and cultivates a space that recognizes these experiences so I can honor myself and women like me, since I was sure I was not the only Asian-American woman feeling that way.”

Because the group started late last semester, most conversations have revolved around the members getting to know each other. Tran is excited to come back this semester with a more consistent meeting time and more topics. Some things she wants the group to address include the “’model-minority’ stereotype, anti-black/latinx racism in Asian communities, how experiences differ between adoption versus immigrants, ‘yellow fever,’ Asian-Americans in social justice work, interracial dating and colorism.” She added that so far the group has “unintentionally touched on many of the topics listed above. Mostly, conversations flow easily and are unstructured, going in whatever direction the participants want to take it in.”

Tran is looking forward to exploring the possibilities of this new project. “I’m so excited to be able to have this open, safe space for self-identified Asian-American women to just relax, rant, cry, and laugh without feeling judgment,” she said. “Hopefully this space, with its commitment to love and support will inspire my Asian-American woman peers to foster their unique experiences, knowledge, and light and show this campus unapologetically what it means to be an Asian-American woman.”

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