If you were to ask any Phillips Academy student the question “What do you think the administration considers as a core school value?” The answer would probably be “diversity.”
Indeed, according to a survey that appeared in the January 18 issue of The Phillipian, 58 percent of respondents said that they believed it to be one of the top three values emphasized by the school. Diversity and acceptance among the student body seem to be the main goals of the administration.
However, although Phillips Academy takes the initiative to educate students and help them feel included, I have to say that I still feel a little left out.
While many guest speakers have come to campus to tell us of the Civil Rights Movement, conflicts between whites and blacks and racism, there never seem to be true forums for Asians. In the past, Asians and AsianAmerican students never seemed to fit among the whites and the blacks. There never seemed to be a time for us.
Luckily, one opportunity sprung up this past Saturday in the form of the first ever Asian/Asian American Alumni Reunion. This reunion created a setting for Asian students to feel more included and cared for. Hopefully, this event will continue on as a strong tradition at Phillips Academy.
Lisa Lian ’08, a Co-President of Asian Society, noticed that Asians were excluded from relevant discussions in many All-School Meetings and campus events, saying, “I heard my friends saying that at All-School Meeting, people who come in for MLK Day are only talking about issues about whites and blacks, and Asian people were never included in the conversation. Asians were also discriminated against in the 1950’s, but Asians were never discussed. Asians are just the background of the conversation.”
I felt this way myself. Coming from a school where Asians were the majority, at Andover I suddenly felt small, as I was thrust into the minority. Suddenly, issues that were important to me didn’t seem to be issues at all. Was there no outlet where I could gain knowledge from others who were in the same situation that I was?
That’s where last weekend’s Asian/Asian American reunion comes into play. The first Phillips Academy Asian/Asian American Alumni Reunion last Saturday, organized by Pine Knoll Cluster Dean and Advisor to Asian and Asian-American Students Aya Murata and Dean of CAMD Linda Griffith, along with many others in the CAMD office, was intended to provide a forum for alumni and current students of Asian descent to get to know each other.
The inspiration for this reunion stemmed from a similar event held by AfLatAm a few years ago. According to Lian, “AfLatAm had an African American and Latino Student-Alumni Reunion two or three years ago. They had the same model where alumni would come in and have discussion groups, lunch and a career panel, and it was very successful. Ms. Griffith was the one who started that. Ms. Murata and I, thinking that it was successful, thought ‘why don’t we copy the idea with Asian students and Asian alumni?’”
The biggest concern for Ms. Murata and Asian Society was whether there would be student interest, should the reunion take place. Judging by the large turnout on Saturday, I can say there was a good amount of student interest.
Jasmine Baek ’06, now a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was one of the many alumni who attended this event. She was pleased with how it turned out, saying, “I was very pleasantly surprised. It could’ve been on a bigger scale but having it affinity-based as opposed to a general reunion was a good idea.”
Baek felt that the reunion was not only fun for alumni, but also beneficial for the current Andover students who attended, saying, “I think the alumni really liked it because it wasn’t just getting together but also allowed us to help current students and see what current student life is about. I know the older alumni were really interested in student life, having the informal meetings and lunch discussions was really good.” Baek said that the alumni later got together to discuss how this Asian/Asian-American reunion could be improved for the future.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this event. Not only did I learn how to accept my role as an Asian living in America, but I also discussed a wide range of more common topics with other attendees.
From Asian American history, to life at college, to how Facebook plagues all of our lives, I was able to gain knowledge from people like me, but who had much more world experience under their belts. Not only did the advice of alumni help me, but administrators such as Ms. Sykes, and even my fellow students opened my eyes.
Unlike other general discussions and All-School Meetings, this reunion mattered to me and I cared what people had to say. Sadly, I will not be able to attend another one of these reunions, as they will only happen every five years or so.
But from this one experience, I now know that being at Phillips Academy, even as part of a minority, is also about being part of the community as a whole.
Michael Yoon is a two-year Lower of Korean heritage. He lives in Hong Kong.