Students and Faculty Discuss Race in the United States from an International Perspective

The Mural Room was filled with students of a variety of ethnicities and cultures as the International Students Club (iClub) hosted a panel discussion, “An International Perspective on Race in The United States,” this past Wednesday.

The panel featured Reim Hussein, Instructor in Biology, Caitlin Monroe, Teaching Fellow in History, Adrian Khactu, Instructor in English, Elizabeth Monroe, Instructor in History, and faculty advisor to iClub, Alessa Cross ’16, Malika Dia ’17, and Cem Vardar ’15. Each speaker shared his or her perspective on race in the US within a five-minute block, taking questions from the audience throughout.

During her opening statement, panelist Reem Hussein, Instructor in Biology, remarked on her transition to life in the United States as a college student.

Dia, a panelist from West Africa, discussed the vast differences between groups of Africans, in addition to differences between Africans and African-Americans, hoping that the audience would leave with more sensitivity towards both groups.

Kim talked about the challenges of growing up bicultural, citing how he had to choose between his Korean name and his American name.

“In both instances you speak the language of a land you’re not from,” said Kim during the panel, in describing how he could not identify with one language or culture. “It’s difficult being bicultural, trying to negotiate two different cultural identities.”

Cross compared her experience as bicultural in Japan to that in the United States.

“In Japan, I am both exoticized and otherized. The homogenous society back home innocuously admires me, along with many other Japanese-biracial students, for our different looks and ability to speak both English and Japanese… In addition, the perception of Asians [in the US] as some “random,” insignificant collection rather than as individuals is dehumanizing and invalidating. It makes a mixed-race person like me feel some sick form of relief– ‘well thank god I’m half white and not fully Asian,’” said Cross.

Monroe, represented the domestic viewpoint on the panel. Monroe provided insight into the importance of history in decoding race in America.

iClub had originally planned to host the discussion within a club meeting, but realized how an outside perspective on race could be beneficial to all students.

“The past few years we have heard a lot about race and gender on campus, and as an international student, I noticed a disconnect between the international and domestic ??understandings of the issues,” said Emma Kukielski ‘15, Co-President of iClub, “Some [International] students even felt that their experiences weren’t being valued on campus.”

“I hope that [people] get that [race] is both complicated and important… It takes effort and empathy to start understanding, but it’s worth it and will make everyone happier,” said Monroe in an interview with The Phillipian.