Saving My Asian Community at College
Saving My Asian Community at College
“It’s the place you go when you need a place.”
That’s how I was introduced to the Pan Asian Room (PAR) about two years ago as a freshman. Before then, I hadn’t yet developed any close ties with the Asian community at my school. I stuck to myself and my familiar friend group, intimidated by how close the other Asians at my school already were*. Now, I can unapologetically admit to the cliche that the PAR became a home for me.
From that point, I started going to Asian club meetings at the PAR, eating there for lunch, and taking naps in between classes when I felt more comfortable. By simply sharing the space with other Asians, I developed close friendships and a sense of belonging that I was deprived of outside of the room. I didn’t notice how out of place I felt amidst predominantly White campus, until I felt in place within the PAR. Now, I do homework there, have dance rehearsals, and pass through just when I want to see friendly faces. But by the end of this academic year, I and almost 100 other students will no longer have this space.
The student center where the PAR is located is undergoing renovation for
the next two years. The clubs that utilize the room for meetings, performance practices, and storage have been given notice to clear out entirely by the end of the semester. Five organizations use the room: Barkada (Filipino culture club, my primary affiliation), Chinese Students Association, Asian American Association, Indian Students Association, and Taiko (Japanese drumming). We have been given a 10x10 office space as temporary replacement for our loss.
I am dreading the day that we lose this space. I’m currently a junior, so I won’t see the end of the student center renovation. I’ll miss sitting in on the deafening Taiko practices, collapsing on the couches of questionable hygiene after an exhausting class, and routinely nodding hello to Momoko, a sophomore Japanese girl who seems to have found an actual permanent home in the room.
But I’m also angry. The school has removed a cultural safe space and has not provided a satisfactory replacement. The assigned office space cannot house the Asian student groups, nor all of our belongings, and the school has not responded to our concerns well enough. The manager of the student center observed Taiko’s giant drums and Barkada’s nine ten foot long bamboo poles (for dancing tinikling) and stated that neither would fit into storage. We’ve been instructed to find a storage space on our own.
Taiko has found potential storage in the Music Building, but would not have space for their practices at least twice a week. Barkada is resorting to keeping our tinikling sticks in the third floor dorm of one of our executive board members. We will have to carry the sticks down two flights of stairs in order to find an empty space on campus for weekly practices.
Overall, I am disappointed. My school has supported the Asian community for years, both in terms of publicity and finances for our events. I am incredibly grateful that the PAR was created in the first place. But this is a huge loss for the Asian community and in my opinion, a scar on the school’s treatment of ethnic minorities; both the Black Student Union and Union Latina have lost their spaces also, and have been given an office as a replacement for a cultural safe space.
The renovation is necessary and sacrifices must be made, but it’s incredibly unfortunate that the ethnic minorities must sacrifice the space in which they feel safe. I am heavy with sadness we will no longer have a place to go when we need a place.
*Disclaimer: I refer to the Asian community as ‘the Asians’ because that’s how we refer to ourselves, not in an attempt to otherize ourselves, but as an accepted objective term
Alicia is a 20 year old junior at The College of New Jersey, with a major in Psychology and anticipated minor in Women's and Gender Studies. In addition to Her Culture, she is a writer for The Prospect and secretary of TCNJ Barkada (Filipino club). Her interests include wearing black, playing Skyrim, appreciating her identity as Asian/Filipino, and knitting hats for stuffed animals. She values practical education over academic excellence and (as an introvert) the idea of speaking "only if it improves upon the silence" (Gandhi). Her goals include reaching self-actualization, building a successful and stable career, and benching her own body weight (85 lb).