this is a guest blogpost featuring three representatives from asian american initative, a student group on campus.
Last March, MIT Asian American Initiative (AAI) met pandemic times be like Sadly, though, it was creating a vigil for the Atlanta spa shootings that had brought us together. MIT had failed to address our community in the midst of the tragedy, so we were forced to plan the vigil ourselves. For many of us in AAI and the Asian American community, the shootings came after an already long rise in hate crimes against our community. As a school whose academic, research, and living communities are home to countless 32% of MIT’s undergraduate student body is Asian American; 9% and 12% of staff and faculty are Asian or Asian American, respectively. MIT should have been aware and prepared to address this tragedy. However, the Institute’s response in the coming days was extremely disappointing, to put it lightly. After this, we at AAI understood that we require and deserve better from our school. So, over the past year, we have been working on the following demands for MIT. Throughout our creation and development process, we’ve spoken with and incorporated feedback from various Asian culture student orgs on campus to make the recs as relevant as possible. Here are our five recommendations:
- MIT must hire culturally competent mental health professionals for the Asian American population.
- MIT must create a permanent, physical space for Asian American students and increase cultural representation.
- MIT must offer courses in Asian American studies, expand the level of Asian language classes, and install ethnic studies programs.
- MIT must hire more Asian American faculty, staff, and senior-level administrators.
- MIT must disaggregate data of Asian American enrollment, graduation, and admissions by ethnicity.
Last week, we publicly launched the recommendations! We created an installation in Lobby 7, the main entrance to the Infinite, composed of check out Kat’s Stop & Sign poster and artwork for each of the recommendations. We also set up a booth in Lobby 10, a big stop in the Infinite, to talk individually with MIT students, staff, and faculty.
- Amelia ‘23, majoring in 11-6 and 21 and living in House 2 in New House,
- Jason ‘24, majoring in 6-9 and living in Simmons has A, B, and C towers and
- Julia ‘25, undeclared but most likely majoring in the best major -Amelia and living in McCormick
are members of AAI and are part of the team that worked on the recommendations. Here are our thoughts on the recs and why we personally got involved:
Why did you decide to get involved with AAI?
- Amelia: tbh it was the pandemic and I wanted more ~Asian~ things in my life since I was missing my Asian Student Association from high school + I found the ppl involved in AAI inspiring so I joined
- Jason: I was part of the Asian Cultures Club at my high school, and I wish we had done even more engagement with social justice issues that affect Asian Americans. I discovered AAI during my CP* (virtual CPW ;-;) and instantly wanted to join after meeting such cool people :DDD
- Julia: I’m interested in public policy and activism and wanted to get involved with work at the intersection of those fields and the Asian American experience. I really liked how a lot of AAI projects focus on critical reflection of our own experiences and finding ways that we can take action as college students. I also thought AAI spoiler alert: it is
Why did you get involved with the recs?
- Jason: AAI is the only Asian American advocacy organization at MIT, so tackling the problems present within our own institution and improving the MIT experience for Asian American students is a crucial aspect of what we do. I had previously been involved in artsy, identity-focused projects with AAI (check out our Rooted zine series!) and wanted to explore new directions by pursuing Institute-level change with the writing of the recommendations. AAI makes it really easy to join projects with no pressure, so it was straight into the recommendation rabbithole after that!
- Amelia: in high school i was a part of ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Identity, Reflection, and Education) at the University of Pennsylvania [obviously Philly is the best city] where i saw resources like a Pan-Asian American Community House with space, staff, and resources. i thought every college cared about Asian American students like that, but coming to MIT i was sorely disappointed. rather, i found out AAI (which was only formally recognized in Spring 2019) was the only asian advocacy outlet at MIT. because of what I had seen at Penn and shoutout to Vietlead in Philly i knew we can + do deserve better.
- Julia: At the beginning of the fall semester, AAI showcased all the projects that members were working on, and I thought the recommendations could be a great way to help make MIT a more welcoming and supportive environment for Asian Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
- Amelia: shout out to our fearless team leader for recruiting great ppl like Julia!
What do the recommendations mean to you?
- Amelia: while writing these recs i had the chance to really dig into Asian American student advocacy at MIT. i had previously watched Intuitively Obvious (this really iconic series of videos about how different racial groups of students felt about MIT in the 90s – sadly not much has change) but it was digging thru the archive that i learned so much more. first of all, there had been another group at MIT called the Asian Pacific American Caucus in the mid 90s that had fought for many similar issues that we have. then i learned via the Course Catalogs that MIT had indeed had ethnic studies (see rec 3) as a concentration until 2012. thru all of this learning i learned that our recs were merely a continuation of a long line of Asian student activists at MIT.
- Julia: The recommendations challenged me to think about what an equitable and supportive college experience should look like and how MIT can work towards that goal. As a first-year student, I didn’t realize how many possibilities could exist until the recommendations helped me realize which things—especially the everyday ones—were missing or could be improved, from the lack of an community space for Asian students to the very limited [read: usually nonexistent] selection of Asian American ethnic studies classes. Helping create and launch these recommendations inspired me to think more boldly and imaginatively about what the future could look like.
- Jason: Two perspectives. First, these recommendations opened my eyes to what an educational institution can and should do to support its students, as Julia just amazingly said. I hope that these recs will lead to genuine and positive change for the Asian American community here, not just in the present but for many years to come. But secondly, and no less importantly, these recommendations are the culmination of over a year of hard work by the AAI Institute Recs project team [Amelia: LOL remember the Stop AAPI Hate project – our first iteration of this project] . We’ve had members come and go, but what I find really remarkable is the passion and drive that have stayed in this team since its founding. The dedication of my team members is visible in every handmade poster on the Lobby 7 pillars, every set of meeting notes with administrators, and every recommendation draft sitting in our Drive. I couldn’t be prouder or happier to have met a group of such wonderful humans.
What rec speaks personally to you?
- Amelia: so i double major in a kind of fake set of interdisciplinary humanities majors we have , specifically in American Studies. i was taking Writing about Race my freshman year and was like dang i should major in ethnic studies but then ofc MIT didn’t offer ethnic studies. shoutout to my current prof at Harvard, phil deloria, for speaking about this in his 2008 presidential American Studies Association address: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27734972?seq=1 but it’s not what my degree will say + i think that too many of our elders & ancestors fought at SFSU for ethnic studies for me too not fight for it too
- Jason: I’ll talk about our first rec, the one about having culturally competent mental health professionals. As in many Asian immigrant families, the topic of “mental health” was never talked about in my family. And yet, much of the stress I face does stem from growing up in a household that puts education and academic performance before all else. I still find it difficult sometimes to acknowledge the importance of my mental health, but meeting a clinician who was also Asian and grew up in an Asian household made it much easier to talk about my struggles and feel like I’m actually being heard and understood. Moreover, I know that this experience is not unique to me; AAI ran a survey of Asian students at MIT last December in which a large majority of respondents indicated the importance of having therapists that share their ethnic background (70%) and are culturally competent (86%). Especially in a pressure-cooker environment like MIT, having mental health professionals that students feel comfortable talking to and have convenient means to reach out to is so, so crucial.
- Julia: I have Very Strong feelings about making sure that “Asian American” actually includes Asians of all ethnicities. The recommendation to disaggregate data of Asian American enrollment, graduation, and admissions by ethnicity is especially important to me because of my experiences as a Filipino American on campus. Although Filipinos make up 19% of Asian Americans, the demographics of the places I grew up in meant that I only ever knew a total of three other Filipino students up until arriving at MIT. Southeast Asians as a whole are underrepresented in higher education, and it’s important that our data reflects the complexities of the Asian American experience, rather than treating us as a monolith.
Any other thoughts?
- Julia: Check out the AAI website and follow us on Instagram! We’ll also be at the CPW Midway so say hi to us there :))
- Amelia: Check out the fun things you could do at AAI like eat bagels with Jason
- Jason: try beet hummus it’s good
- pandemic times be like back to text ↑
- 32% of MIT’s undergraduate student body is Asian American; 9% and 12% of staff and faculty are Asian or Asian American, respectively. back to text ↑
- demands back to text ↑
- check out Kat’s Stop & Sign poster back to text ↑
- Simmons has A, B, and C towers back to text ↑
- the best major -Amelia back to text ↑
- spoiler alert: it is back to text ↑
- shoutout to Vietlead in Philly back to text ↑
- our fearless team leader back to text ↑
- a kind of fake set of interdisciplinary humanities majors we have back to text ↑
- shoutout to my current prof at Harvard, phil deloria, for speaking about this in his 2008 presidential American Studies Association address: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27734972?seq=1 back to text ↑