API Graduation 2014

Professor Paul Nam gave the keynote speech for the API (Asian Pacific Islander) Graduation Ceremony. Below is his speech.



API Graduation

May 16, 2014


   Good evening. First, I would like to thank the API organization for the honor of addressing this year’s class. I feel a special bond with this class because I started Oxy with them, and in a sense I am leaving with them, too. Second, I would like to acknowledge all the family and friends in attendance coming to support their loved ones. They couldn’t have come as far without you. Finally, I would like to congratulate all the seniors here today to whom I am addressing this speech, not only for having finished four grueling years of the hell we know as Oxy, but choosing to take part in this ceremony. As such, you have chosen to identify yourself as Asian or Pacific Islander. While this may seem natural to you, we both know that some of our, let us say, banana brethren choose not to identify as we do.

This evening, I would like to talk about three themes: identity, the model minority, and entitlement.


   A little about myself. I came to America when I was three. While I’m technically first generation, I’m not like my parents who were adults when they came. Nor am I second-generation like my brother who was born in the Staten Island Memorial Hospital. Being neither first nor second, I’m considered 1.5 generation. These sociological categories will become relevant later.

Growing up on Staten Island, I remember feeling the same as the children around me. Analyzing these memories now reveals a darker side I didn’t recognize as a child. For example, in the third grade I remember walking around the schoolyard with Christine DiPietro. We were talking about the TV show S.W.A.T. We argued if SWAT stood for Special Weapons and Techniques or Special Weapons and Trucks, because you know they always jumped out of police trucks. Anyway, I found out that Christine told her father she wanted to marry me, the little Oriental boy. Her father told her he’d break her legs if she did.

Or I remember the first time I realized I wasn’t like all the other children. It was in 7th grade Social Studies when Mr. McMillen was teaching us about the Silk Road, or trade between Europe and China. He pointed to a student and said you’re the European merchant who buys goods from the Middle Eastern trader who got his merchandise from the Chinese seller, and saying this he stared at me. I looked around me, because I didn’t recognize that hail was meant for me, because I thought I was the same as everyone else, and also I was Korean, not Chinese.

Identity is a tricky thing, because our identity is constructed not only by how we desire to see ourselves, but how we are seen by those around us. For example, in the boondocks of America, I stand out like jaundice. In Los Angeles, no-one does a double-take. And in Asia, I’m just part of the scenery.

The old definitions of Asianness are starting to crumble. In other words, these definitions cannot contain the new realities that have emerged. When I was growing up on the East Coast, Asian meant you were from East Asia. Now Asian encompasses all of Asia, be it East Asia, Southeast Asia, subcontinent India, or the Pacific Islands, all are placed into the same category.

Moreover, we have more children of mixed marriages now, sometimes known as hapa deriving from the word “half.” Half-Asian, plus half-white, half-black, half-whatever. Or if you use the new term, Biracial.

Or how about children from Asia adopted by Caucasian parents? Their upbringing, their lifestyle, and their parents are white, so are they? Or how about the converse of Asian parents adopting children who are not of Asian ancestry? How are they to be labeled, or defined?

So you see, the old definition of Asianness does not and cannot contain these new realities. Regardless of what kind of Asian we are, whole or half or bi, adopted or not, we’ve all been pigeonholed as the model minority.

Model Minority

   The term “model minority” was first coined in the mid-60s by William Petersen, a UC Berkeley sociologist describing Japanese Americans. In a New York Times article, he spoke of the Japanese American experience of overcoming legal obstacles or the grossest injustice of internment. Though the long multicolumn article focuses exclusively on Japanese Americans, he concludes with a comparison with blacks in America. For Petersen, of all minorities, African Americans were the most embedded in American society; in contrast, Japanese Americans were able to overcome racism “because of their meaningful links with an alien culture. Pride in their heritage and shame for any reduction in its … legendary glory” So we see that Japanese Americans were successful, according to Petersen, because of their ties with Japan.

From this seminal article, we can draw two conclusions. One, Japanese Americans are the model minority. The minority that overcame the racist barriers in America. Note … that lauding, by extension, our success, other peoples of color are being criticized for not doing the same. So, it’s a divide and conquer technique. We’re being partitioned off from the rest of the peoples of color in America.

Second, from the article, we see that Japanese Americans are not really American, for it was their links to an alien culture that enabled them to prosper in America. We, as Asian Americans, no matter what generation we are, are perpetual foreigners. This is why we are classified by first generation, second generation, 1.5 generation. Really, how many [air quotes] “regular” Americans know what generation they are? This is why when I’m asked where I’m from, and I say Staten Island, NY, the questioner rephrases, “Where are you really from?” And no matter how many times I say Staten Island, and come on how many people would confess to being from Staten Island if they weren’t really. So no matter how many times I say Staten Island, Staten Island, Staten Island, the truth is denied because I don’t look like I’m from Staten Island.

Even in America’s most hallowed halls of learning and truth, we will always be perpetual foreigners. A good friend of mine from grad school was teaching at Dartmouth. In her first year, she was invited to a professor’s house for Christmas dinner. During the dinner, which was basically Dartmouth faculty, she was told that Christmas was a celebration of Christ’s birth. My friend replied, “Yes, I know.” Then, she was asked, “When is Buddha’s birthday?” So my friend, who English is better than mine, and dresses like what you would expect an Ivy League professor to dress like is asked when Buddha’s birthday is by some of the most educated and arguably most intelligent people in America.

Finally, indulge me in one final microaggression, take note of the word. Numerous times, [airquotes] “regular” Americans have commented on how good my English is. I usually just smile and say thank you, thank you so very much. I don’t do this, I just say, “thank you.” But in my head, I’m dying to say that I’m better educated. I smarter than you. You’re complimenting ME on my English, REALLY?? But I don’t, because I’m passive-aggressive and that’s another discreet quality all Asians share.

My point to all these incidents is that even though we may be the “model minority,” within the present structure, we are not accepted as Americans, at best we’re Japanese American, Vietnamese American, Pilipino American, what have you, just never solely American.

Now some of you are probably thinking, hey why not take advantage of being considered hard-working, diligent, studious, number-crunching, non-political and non-aggressive. I’ll just work hard and get my slice of the American dream. American society is a meritocracy and since I’m meritorious, I’ll take it. It doesn’t work that way, because the rules of the game will change on you. Case in point, Stuyvesant high school in New York City is the best and most prestigious public high school, apologies to all you Bronx Science people, but it’s the truth. Admittance to Stuy is based completely on an entrance exam, the New York City Specialized High Schools admission test. In last year’s entering class of 2013, Stuy offered admission to 9 black students; 24 Latino/Latina students; 177 white students; and … get this … 620 students who identify as Asian. And since you’re all Asian you can do the calculations and say that Asian composed [pause] 74.69% of the class, white students [pause] 21.32%, Latino/a 2.89% and black students 1.08%. So 75% of the best public high school in New York City is Asian. And they deserve to be there because they did the best on the standardized exam, right? Not really. But if we’re gonna play the game that way, does this mean Harvard will be 75% Asian? No, no way in hell is Harvard going to open their gates to the yellow peril. By the way, Harvard class of 2016 is 20.7 percent Asian-American. Oxy’s percent of Asian Pacific Island students has held steady at around 15-20% for the past decade. And this is similar to elite colleges and universities throughout America. You can see that the rules of the game have changed from high school to college.

Perhaps the most insidious propagation of the myth of the model minority is to deny racism against Asians and Pacific Islanders in America. The argument goes that since Asians have made it in American society, they could not have faced racism, otherwise they would not have achieved success. I hope that my relaying of the three expressions of microaggressions is the proof that racism in America is alive and strong, it has just sunk below the surface of respectability. So we’re no longer called chink to our faces, rather people comment on how things made in China are suspicious and hazardous. Or how a certain cable news channel showed images of mourning Tibetans as Koreans reacting to their recent ferry tragedy. We all look alike, so what does it matter.


   Finally, the topic of entitlement and privilege. By virtue of graduating from a college like Occidental, all of you have entered into the American middle class, or at least what’s left of it. And if you’re good Asians, you’ll become successful doctors, lawyers, or engineers. You’ll work hard and eventually buy a house in the Palisades or Brentwood. I implore you, however, to remember that your gateway to the middle class, was opened to you by the sacrifices and struggles of those who came before you. Specifically, I’m talking about the Civil Rights Movement. How many of us would really be here in this still very occidental institution of higher learning if not for those who fought to force America to recognize something other than whiteness. In A Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks of the greatest obstacle in the stride toward freedom as not being rabid racists like the White Citizen’s Councils or the Ku Klux Klan, but the white moderate who

“is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another…’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises … to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

It’s too easy for us the “model minority” to become the white moderate. Here, when I use the word “white,” I am not referring to the unfortunate lack of skin pigmentation, but rather the construction of whiteness as privilege, entitlement, and superiority. After all, how many times have we been told to not make waves, to go with the flow, to study and work hard to get ahead. How many of us have internalized feelings of inadequacy or the ominous clouds of inferiority, as we struggle to partake of American society?

It’s too easy for us to not acknowledge the sacrifices made that allow us to be here, now. All of us who reap the benefits of those who came before us, have an obligation to repay these debts by shattering this all-encompassing, pigeon-holing stereotype of the model minority. Borrowing from Dr. King: I am here to remind you of the fierce urgency of Now. There is no time to engage in the luxury of silence or taking the tranquilizing drug of moderation. Now is the time to make real the promises of America. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of inadequacy and inferiority to the sunlit paths of agency and freedom. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all.

Thank you.



Welcome to Oxy!

Dear Admitted Students,

We, the Coalition @Oxy for Diversity & Equity (CODE), would like to congratulate you on your acceptance to Occidental! For those of you who were able to visit this week, you may have become aware of the issues surrounding our campus relating to diversity. Occidental College claims to value being a multicultural campus that reflects the diverse urban setting of Los Angeles. However, this image you have been receiving from the school is not the reality for many of us.

On this blog, you will find a number of statistics about Oxy’s diversity, information about the long history of student activism at Oxy, and our proposed solutions to many of the contributing factors to our problems. For more current personal accounts of racism and other forms of discrimination, please visit http://codeoxy.tumblr.com/.

While Oxy’s commitment to diversity and equity on campus has often come into question, we acknowledge that this is not specific to our school. Wherever you ultimately decide to attend, you will most likely be subject to negative experiences, similar to those you may already have encountered in your lifetime. (See: Diversity at Oxy in comparison to other colleges)

Unique to Oxy, however, is the long history of student activism and community-building to improve our campus and hold our college accountable to its core beliefs: excellence and equity. Since the 1960s, students have advocated for a more diverse multicultural environment. CODE seeks to continue and build upon the legacy of the efforts of past activists, demanding the most of our time here. As you decide which college is right for you, know that CODE is a support network for students of color and we strongly encourage you to come to Oxy and join our efforts.



CODE students and professors

P.S. Also check us out at, https://www.facebook.com/pages/CODE-Oxy/626950517338847


Concerning Blackness and Springfest

Concerning Blackness and Springfest

I would first like to credit the alumni of Occidental for sharing this narrative with others and myself. This letter would not be possible without their institutional memory and the knowledge concerning Springfest would still be largely forgotten.

As everyone on campus knows, this year’s Springfest is featuring hip-hop artist Talib Kweli. Known for his socially conscientious lyrics, as well as his frequent collaborations with Mos Def, Talib Kweli is a well-respected artist within the genre.

Also of note, Talib Kweli performed at Occidental in 2006 during one of the series of events known as “The Exploration of Blackness,” which preceded and evolved into Springfest. The “Exploration of Blackness,” as indicated through the title, was a two-week long series of events dedicated to understanding the culture, nuances, and struggles of the Black Diaspora. These events include, but are not limited to, lectures by Angela Davis, performances and talks by Talib Kweli and Lupe Fiasco, as well as public viewings of both The Boondocks and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled in the quad. “Exploration of Blackness” received widespread support from the student body, cultural clubs, faculty, and administration before it transitioned to the Springfest we are currently familiar with.

While the conventional criticism of Springfest programming board’s seemingly monotonous selection of hip-hop artists year after year is somewhat ironic, especially considering the origins of Springfest are rooted within Blackness, it is not unexpected. Springfest has been divorced from its radical Blackness social justice beginnings. As a result, it is no longer conceived as an event dedicated to helping foster campus-wide understanding of Black identity, but rather a concert to turn up at.

Of course, this is not to say we should not have concerts with a diverse range of musical genres and acts. I would argue for more diverse music beyond hip-hop for Oxy concerts.

However, we should not forget the history and original purpose of what once was explicitly Black radical programming at Oxy. As this campus continues to wrestle over issues over race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality, it is imperative that we look to the past to try and resurrect the once-progressive soul of the college. Going to a Macklemore or Talib Kweli concert is not enough to engage in critical discussion and action regarding prominent (and inescapable) social issues.


David Pino

Class of 2014

Sociology Major

Find the Leadership II: Students Demand Equity

Dear Colleagues:

One thing is clear: the packed  ASOC-sponsored forum in Choi Auditorium on Thursday, Feb 27, reiterated the need for an Office of Diversity and Equity led by a Vice President or Chief Diversity Officer. The discussion can be organized in terms of several themes: a lack of coordination; a lack of response to serious allegations; and a lack of expertise. Organizing the evidence from the meeting in this way reiterates that the problem at hand is not a question of individual goodwill across scattered offices. It is a question of effective structuring to ensure that a team of employees will devote all of their energy solely to ensuring that excellence and equity are sustained campus-wide.

The town hall consisted of students, faculty, and several panelists, including the Dean of Students/VP for Student Life, Dean of the College/VP for Academic Affairs , the VP for Admissions and Financial Aid, the Associate-VP for Scholarship Technology, and the Associate-VP for Strategic Initiatives. Although several administrators stated how frequently they consider diversity and they offered isolated instances of how they each try to address diversity, they showed no evidence of working in coordination to enact a shared vision.They showed no evidence of how they hold each other accountable to bring this shared vision to fruition. In this town hall meeting the VPs could have illustrated their progress on actualizing their Action Plan sent to the Oxy community on December 5, 2013. However, none of the VPs even mentioned their own plan. Whether this is based on the fact that these VPs lack the expertise to carry out such an agenda, or their counter to CODE’s plan was merely a stalling tactic, or any other reason, it would be problematic to assume that we must simply give the VPs plan more time when they are clearly not attempting to implement their own plan and perhaps forgot they even created one. The VPs must now explain why they set aside Code’s 29 Action Items for a counter-plan that they have abandoned less than 3 months after making it public. More importantly, the VPs must address CODE’s Action Items.

Most significantly, the panelists literally ignored several troubling claims from students about the administration’s lack of transparency, “culture of intimidation” and problematic concept of “risk,” which treats students of color, LGBTQ students, religious minorities, first-generation students, students from working class backgrounds, and survivors of sexual assault as liabilities. The examples that follow can be added to a long list of examples where lack of transparency amongst administrators directly and negatively impacts students’ living and learning experiences. For example, students of color found out at the forum that their applications to become residents in Pauley Hall were thwarted by hidden criteria. As a result of these hidden criteria, students who wanted to live in Pauley were not accepted into the dorm. Meanwhile, students uninterested in the dorm’s multi-cultural theme and did not even apply were allowed to move in. The administrators directly responsible for Residential Life who were in the room did not explain why they imposed additional criteria without notifying students. Many students who value the dorm’s long legacy concluded that, regardless of intentions, this undermines Pauley’s mission and worsens their living experience on campus.

In regards to a culture of intimidation and risk management, students noted how often campus security watches Pauley Hall despite the illegal activities occurring in other dorms not associated with students of color. Administrators did not deny this observation or offer an answer.  Another student asked why student workers are threatened or fired from campus jobs for joining campus causes when Oxy claims to value social justice. The administration did not deny or address this claim either.

Students also asked the VPs how they will hold accountable students targeting and harassing first-generation students, LGBTQ students, and students of color. Although one administrator in the audience offered a mentorship program to LGBTQ students, other voices reiterated the original question: why are students who target their peers not being held accountable and when will accountability be put in place? The total lack of a response indicates, regardless of goodwill, there will be no accountability for students mistreating their peers based on racial, gender, sexual, class, or other differences.

Two points remain. The penultimate one concerns a lack of expertise among the administrators. It was quite telling that students’ comments and questions demonstrated deeper understanding of the structural and institutional bases for their experiences than the institutional leaders who attempted to respond. Attending conferences alone will not give the current VPs the proper training to handle these efforts around diversity. Yet none of the panelists said they’ve pursued extensive training to learn about and implement a model of inclusive excellence. They showed no evidence of consulting with peer institutions. Some of the panelists appeared to think goodwill alone overcomes this hurdle. Instead, this fostered confusion, with administrators answering questions outside their purview yet dodging questions within their purview. Some students wondered why an administrator who has already received a vote of no confidence is at the helm of this diversity initiative. It is time to state the obvious: goodwill, though welcomed, is not a substitute for expertise.

In conclusion, the selective way in which the word “civil” is used to manage campus debate is disturbing. Mistreated and even traumatized students are being asked to be civil, which basically means they should keep silent, as if they are threats to the campus. Historically, such calls for civility are most commonly deployed against groups speaking from structurally disempowered positions, to keep those groups from having more of a say in the institutions they inhabit. It is disturbing that members of the Oxy community would use such language to discipline students who are demanding genuine dedication to diversity and equity. But the call for civility rarely goes both ways. Considering that Oxy administrators rejected CODE’s Action Items that would yield immediate results; that administrators created their own counter-plan only to shelve and forget about it within three months; that administrators at the assembly ignored the students’ most pressing questions; that administrators have thwarted students’ searches for safe campus spaces; that the administrators did not deny nor address allegations of administrative surveillance, intimidation, and retaliation against students; and, lastly, that Oxy administrators offered no accountability plan for students who mistreat their peers—Considering all this, demanding civility from protesting students without holding other students accountable for victimizing their peers reveals a confusion of priorities and just how far the rhetoric of civility gets us: nowhere.


This is not about being “civil” or “uncivil.” This is about transforming Oxy’s rhetoric into reality. It is clear now that there is no alternative plan. All that is left to do is to implement CODE’s 29 Action Items because they are a first step to ensure the welfare of Oxy’s student body, faculty, and administrators.



Find the Leadership

Dear Colleagues:

 Why have so many liberal arts colleges established offices headed by Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) in the last five years? How did Amherst, Pomona, Swarthmore, Vassar, and Williams become the new leaders in diversity initiatives? Why are Bates, Connecticut, Hamilton, Dickinson, Middlebury, Providence, Reed, Smith, Trinity, and Wellesley following their lead? Why is Oxy not part of the 26 member-schools of the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers Organization (LADO)? Is Oxy as committed as these colleges to the institutionalization of diversity values?

 A major national study by Damon Williams and Katrina Wade-Golden found that in the last five years, over 30 colleges and universities have created posts for CDOs. The emergence of these posts in higher education has historical precedence as some institutions hired VPs or Deans of Minority Affairs in the 1970s to promote universal access and the ideal of student diversity. What distinguishes the current national trend for offices with CDOs from its precursor, according to Williams and Wade-Golden, “is the functional definition of diversity as a resource than can be leveraged to enhance the learning of all students and is fundamental to institutional excellence, in addition to its historic definition as the presence of individuals that differ by race, gender, or some other social identity characteristic.” The shifting paradigm has led to corresponding institutional transformation at many colleges that are informed by and committed to the Inclusive Excellence Change Model conceptualized by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

 The role of offices of CDOs in the Inclusive Excellence model is to provide overarching strategic leadership and accountability in the resolution of systemic inequities, expansion of pathways for access and success, and promotion of a healthy campus climate. The Inclusive Excellence model does not presume that the CDO alone is responsible for these efforts. To the contrary, the model demands that the office of the CDO serve as an integrating force for diversity issues by collaborating, coordinating, and working through the lateral networks of an institution. Consultative relationships are essential, but the office of the CDO is ultimately accountable for building consensus, assessing progress, and achieving results. In essence, the CDO’s leadership provides both symbolic and tangible resources that represent the priority placed in diversifying a campus.

 Will we sit on the sidelines and watch these dynamic changes taking place at our peer institutions or join the movement and regain our position as a leader for diversity, equity and inclusion? A Diversity and Equity Office headed by a Chief Diversity Officer could build on the foundational work that has already been done at Oxy since the 1980s and help us move forward in building our diversity infrastructure and advancing our diversity goals.

 We encourage you to become familiar with some of the key scholarship on Inclusive Excellence as well as strategic diversity initiatives at other liberal arts colleges, so that we can hold a rigorous discussion about CODE’s demand for the an Office of Diversity and Equity and the hiring of a VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the spring semester.

 What is a Chief Diversity Officer?


Toward a Model of Inclusive Excellence and Change in Postsecondary Institutions


C3 Creating Consortiums Connections


Dean Strives to Recruit Minority Scholars to Liberal Arts Colleges






Joe is Not Alone: A Call for a Just and Humane Oxy

They fired Joe! And while the administration seems to be finally addressing the particulars of this case, they make no mention of how a long-term and dedicated employee was fired in the manner he was.

And sadly, Joe Cunje’s situation is not an isolated incident. What Prof. Boesche refers to as “a poison in the atmosphere on this campus” has indeed been registered by students, faculty, and staff as a mounting culture of surveillance, intimidation, and retaliation, targeting critics of the administration and members of the campus community who strive to make Oxy a more just and equitable institution. This culture prioritizes a “risk management” approach in which obedience and control over how issues are represented take precedence over the actual well-being of members of the community. As a consequence, those who raise issues about sexual assault, microagressions and more overt acts of hate, and the overall hostile climate are treated as “risks.” Those who bring to light these realities are treated as threats, for they question the administration’s representation of the College as a place of diversity, equality, and justice.

We, the undersigned, call on the Occidental administration to stop the re-marginalization of women, people of color, members of working class communities, religious minorities, dis/abled persons, and LGBTQ persons by “managing” what they are bringing to light. We call on the administration to execute CODE’s action items to make Occidental an institution in which all can thrive by attending to the proposed structural changes: 

• hiring an ombudsperson,
• increasing transparency and oversight throughout all divisions of the College,
• and establishing a fully-resourced Office of Diversity and Equity, headed by a Vice President.

Conferring dignity to venerable employees like Joe is a crucial start but not enough. We call for immediate structural reform to create a more just and humane institution.

Petition addressed to: Jonathan Veitch, President of Occidental College, Chris Calkins, President of the Board of Trustees

Petition started on 2/21/2014

From the undersigned:

Sign here.