Dana Hall addresses AAPI Month with guest speakers, presenters

Dana Hall has been honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, which began on May 1, by providing daily biographies of famous AAPI people and by bringing in guest speakers to discuss AAPI history. Additionally, two presenters spoke at morning meetings to teach the student body about AAPI issues. 

On Tuesday, May 12, Dr. Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn spoke during an extended all-school morning meeting over Zoom about the Model Minority Myth and the Yellow Peril stereotype. The Model Minority Myth is a harmful stereotype that Asian Americans face that suggests they are naturally intelligent and do not need to study to succeed. The Yellow Peril stereotype originated in the late nineteenth century and incorrectly suggested that East Asians stole white people’s jobs. This stereotype led to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.

Also in Dr. Blackburn’s presentation was information on the 1960s Civil Rights movement and how the term “Asian American” stemmed from this era. According to Dr. Blackburn, the Civil Rights movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement became models for the AAPI Rights Movement and gave rise to the political term “Asian American,” as opposed to more specific ethnic identification terms such as “Chinese American” or “Taiwanese American.”

Mr. Ryan Chiu, a math teacher in the Upper School, is the Asian American Affinity Group faculty advisor at Dana Hall. Novia Nguyen ‘21 and Sissi Wang ‘24 are the co-heads of the group. They have been collaborating with Mr. Chiu on finding ways to educate the student body on AAPI Heritage Month. “There’s always this two-pronged approach,” Mr. Chiu said. “We want to support our [AAPI] students in every way possible, but also branch out to a larger education of the public.”

Mr. Chiu gave a presentation on May 5 Regarding the Model Minority Myth. “I very quickly connected what the model minority myth was with being a good student and a good person,” Mr. Chiu said about his own high school experience. “And I think that’s actively harmful.” 

The Asian American Affinity Group at Dana Hall meets every two to three weeks, which Mr. Chiu says keeps international students, who are often learning virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, together. The group gives them a place to stay connected. Since her freshman year, Novia had been advocating for an Asian American Affinity Group; however, this is the group’s inaugural year.

Caitlin Kuang ‘24 and Kelly Chen ‘24, who are members of the Asian American Affinity Group at Dana Hall, presented on May 3 about the history of AAPI Heritage Month during a morning meeting held over Zoom. 

Caitlin has expressed interest in allowing Mirage submissions to be in other languages so that students can share works in their native languages. She believes that this would inspire students to become more well-versed in the languages they are learning in class. She also thinks that an account similar to @blackatdanahall but dedicated to AAPI students would be a way for AAPI students to share their experiences with racism at Dana Hall. 

Caitlin thanked Dana Hall for making her feel connected to her roots through the Asian American Affinity Group. “Dana is making a nice effort to acknowledge my community,” she said. “It’s a really nice feeling to not be alone.” 

Caitlin hopes that her presentation will inspire students to go to SHADES meetings or seek opportunities to become better allies to the AAPI Community. “I think it would be very important for people to acknowledge the history of the AAPI community,” Caitlin said. “But at the same time, I also hope that people will be influenced and inspired, that they would want to participate more in AAPI heritage month.”

As a result of the recent rise in attacks against the Asian American community, Dana Hall has been sending emails with responses to racially motivated events after they occur, such as the March 16 shooting in Atlanta. “Dana Hall is trying to do a lot already,” Caitlin said. “But at the same time, in some classes, there’s just nothing happening to acknowledge these hate crimes.”

Mr. Chiu is generally satisfied with the school’s handling of the increase in violence against the Asian American community fueled by the false claim that they are at fault for the spread of the coronavirus. He said that talking to the school about these incidents of blatant and often violent racism is a fine line to walk. “For these conversations, visibility and awareness should come first,” he said. “We’ve been trying to workshop that in a bunch of different ways.”

According to Mr. Chiu, discussions of this magnitude tend to be watered down because they must be both trauma-sensitive and age-appropriate. Morning meetings, where these discussions would often happen, include students between the ages of 10 and 19. “We don’t address every mass shooting or police killing. How much information can we throw at people?” Mr. Chiu said. 

Even with these complications, Mr. Chiu is optimistic about the future of the Asian American Affinity group at Dana Hall. “I graduated high school in 2014, and we were not allowed to have any of these conversations,” he said. “And a lot of teachers come to our open meetings.” He also mentioned that teachers at Dana Hall had had conversations with him about handling past events, such as the shooting in Atlanta that killed six Asian American women. He believes this is a significant step in the right direction.  

“Support is there, and it only increases with education,” he said. 

In addition to organizing Dr. Blackburn’s presentation, the Asian American Affinity Group recently achieved a significant milestone in New England history. Dana Hall is one of the first private schools in New England to honor the Lunar New Year as a school holiday. This change will begin in the 2021-2022 school year. 

Novia and Caitlin created and sent out a petition to the upper school to make the Lunar New Year a school holiday. Students from various countries and cultural backgrounds signed, including many who did not identify as Asian or Asian American. 

“Since I’m Chinese, I celebrate [Lunar] New Year,” Caitlin said. “So for me, it’s like acknowledging my culture and my heritage, so I’m really happy Dana Hall is doing that.” 

As for the future, Mr. Chiu says that the ideal action Dana Hall should take “is not an action, but an outcome.” 

“A lot of our AAPI students haven’t had a combination of space, time, and emotional bandwidth to process” hate crimes, he said. Mr. Chiu wants a better way to support his students “because deep conversations can’t be manufactured.” 

AAPI Heritage Month has been a yearly tradition honored in May since 1992 when President George H.W Bush expanded it from Asian American Heritage Week. Generally, the term AAPI includes those from countries in western Asia such as Turkey to eastern countries such as South Korea in Japan and Polynesia and Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, India, and Indonesia. 

May was chosen as AAPI Heritage Month due to the historical significance of events during this month. On May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States, and the Transcontinental Railroad, which Chinese immigrants primarily built, was completed on May 10, 1869.

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