old skool

As I’m working on book revisions, I occasionally find large chunks of text from the original doc that got chucked somewhere along the way. They won’t make it in the final thing, but they’re nice to revisit, reminding me how this project ever got off the ground. I vividly remember sitting down in front of my computer to start the daunting task of writing my dissertation proposal in March 2007 and not being able to write anything until I wrote what drew me to start studying IVCF in the first place:

When I was an undergraduate, I went to go visit my best friend Steph from Ohio, who was attending Stanford. The night that I got into town, she told me that her campus Christian fellowship was holding a forum that night called “Race Matters” where they would talk about issues related to race and diversity.

When we entered the large room that night, I noticed the demographics: About half Asian American, a quarter White, and a quarter of Latino/a and Black students. We were asked to break up into small groups by race, and within race, national origin. The room was filled with subgroups of Asian Americans, and Steph and I walked over to the Korean group. Once assembled, we began to dialogue about how strange it was that we were suddenly being forced to clump together as Koreans, even though our experiences were so different as Korean immigrants, a Korean who grew up in Hong Kong, Korean Americans who grew up in Korea, a Korean from Hawaii who did not understand why people on the mainland made such a big deal about race, and us, two Korean Americans from Ohio. We gathered again as a large group, and each small group shared insights from its discussion time. I was struck by the stories shared by the small group of multiracial students, who expressed how they never knew where they fit.

Then the facilitators began to encourage students to talk between groups, to share some of their thoughts about other racial/ethnic groups. One of the facilitators, a Chinese American woman, shared how she had been called out by a Black friend when she made the comment that “Black people sing so well,” learning a lesson about the dangers of positive stereotyping. A few minutes later, an Asian American female student cautiously shared a stereotype that she had heard about Korean American men, that they “beat their wives.” A few other students nodded in recognition. Then Jack, a Korean American from Los Angeles, joined the conversation. He had a strong emotional reaction, saying how he was tired of being stereotyped as a Korean American male and how hurtful it was to hear such comments, even though he recognized that domestic violence was pervasive within the community. Finally his voice broke, and someone passed him a Kleenex box.

 The facilitators rushed to diffuse the intensity of the situation, and my mind began to wander, asking questions like why had I never experienced this type of raw, honest dialogue during college? How were the students processing the discussion? And strangest of all, why and how was this forum occurring at a Christian student organization, of all places? Later that night, Steph and I sat in the dining hall and debriefed. “You know…I never thought about this stuff like you do, but I think there might be something there with this race thing,” she pondered. 


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