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Students, Panelists Discuss Asian Issues


Gabor Csanyi -- The Tech
Anthony Ng G from the Asian Pacific American Caucus, member of a large student-faculty panel, shares his Asian American experience with an audience of about 100.

By Naveen Sunkavally
Staff Reporter

Last Thursday, students, faculty, and leaders of several campus cultural organizations gathered in 10-250 to discuss Asian American issues.

The discussion, sponsored by the MITCommittee on Campus Race Relations, was the second in the Race 2000 series.

The purpose of the meeting was "to provoke us individually to become agents of change," said Professor of Music Ellen T. Harris, who serves as co-chair of the committee.

The meeting began with a series of short film clips depicting issues of race and surveying the history of Asian American treatment in the United States.

Shortly after, several people rose to their feet and read a series of statements about major events affecting people in America of Asian descent, such as "1854: People vs. Hall rules that Chinese cannot give testimony in court," or "1965: Immigration Law abolishes national origins' as basis of forming immigration quotas."

Panelists explore MIT stereotypes

J. Emma Teng, instructor in foreign languages and literature, moderated the next 45 minutes, during which she asked an eight-person- panel questions about race at MIT.

The first question asked the panelists for their opinions on the perception of "Asians as a model minority."

"Categorizing all Asians in one culture is a gross simplification" and one-dimensional, said Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science James E. Chung, also a co-chair of the Committee on Campus Race Relations.

Psychiatrist in the Medical Department Kristine Cha said the "model minority" concept "places additional emphasis on Asians to be perfect and makes it hard for Asians to come for help or admit weaknesses and vulnerabilities."

Anant Sahai G of Sangam said Asian Americans make an average of $58,000 per year but that "just because you make money doesn't mean there are no race issues."

The next question explored Pan-Asian unity and the common experiences shared by all Asians. Anthony Ng G of the Asian Pacific American Students Caucus said, "I personally feel our commonality is [the search for] identity."

Somak Chattopadhyay of the South Asian American Students Association emphasized the need for unity for media leverage, and former Associate Dean Mary Ni, now assistant professor of development studies and counseling at Boston University, said, "Something that bonds all Asians, whether we like it or not, is racism."

Faculty race issue explored

David F. McGill '99 opened up the question and answer period by asking, "What are the relations between Asians and international students?" Chattopadhyay pointed out the existence of a slight polarization in terms of poverty and arranged marriage. Sahai, however, said, "the media will try to force the issue up."

Racism among faculty and in deciding promotions was also discussed. Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Chiang C. Mei said that while there has been a significant increase in the last 30 years in Asian students at MIT, there has not been a proportional increase in Asian faculty.

"I have been invited to be a minority for outside purposes," Mei said, but when applying for grants, Asians are treated as "overrepresented minorities." He said, "I hope in our discussion of race relations, larger conditions of workers will be considered."

Teng corroborated Mei's statements by stating that 8.5 percent of faculty are Asians compared to 30 percent of the student population.

Associate Dean Ayida Mthembu urged people to join her personal boycott of movies such as "Red Corner," in which white males or women play Asian characters. She said that such movies gave Americans the license "to abuse tradition as if we don't exist."

Near the end of the meeting, one audience member asked why few whites were at the meeting and suggested that "in the future a meeting on race should incorporate all groups."