I first read about the proposed Cornell Asian/Asian American Center some time last semester. After months of research and discussion, I have yet to find a good reason for Cornell to fund it.
According to the A3C blog, (a3c-cornell.blogspot.com) the center aims to “provide university support for Asian and Asian American students and provide a space for community-building, cultural celebration and the development of an Asian/Asian American consciousness.” This confuses me. What is an “Asian/Asian American consciousness,” and what is the Asian community?
I’m always perplexed when everyone who can conveniently be labeled Asian is automatically assumed to be part of some massive, aggregated “community.” Am I and some other Asian guy on the street bonded in communal consciousness simply because we both happen to have ethnic roots in a continent of four billion people? It’s going even further to assume that we need and want the same things from college.
Those behind this Center can’t stop emphasizing the “unique needs” of the “community.” As someone lumped into the Asian American category because of my passport and ethnic roots, I decided to look into what my unique needs are, because I sure wasn’t aware of them before. Since arriving at Cornell, I haven’t noticed how my being Asian (whatever that means) has led me to have special needs that currently existing school resources don’t already meet. Just in case my situation was unique and I was an abnormal Asian, I did some extra research into the reasoning behind this proposed center.
To briefly summarize a 2004 report by the Asian and Asian American Campus Climate Task Force, a disproportionately large number of students who fit into the category of “Asian” kill themselves, hate college, stress out over academics, are harassed on campus and avoid seeking help for their problems. In conclusion, Asian people at Cornell are supposedly under-served and in need of an Asian student center.
Let’s assume that all this is true and up to date. Let me put aside my skepticism and proclaim that this data proves a CAUSAL link between being of Asian descent and encountering all these problems. Let’s even assume that every single Asian student is on the verge of suicide or is cruelly harassed or is hating Cornell, all due to circumstances directly rooted in their being Asian (and let’s conveniently leave out the half-Asian or quarter-Asian people, because they would make this model too complicated).
How will the center address these “Asian needs” better than any existing campus resource?
For example, if one of the problems is the stigma surrounding seeking help (as the report suggests), I predict that these students will continue to deal with problems on their own, as the notion of an “Asian Help Center (just for you!)” is all the more babying and unapproachable for students who are afraid of showing weakness.
If one of the problems is parental/familial pressure to do well academically, the center cannot provide any help that cannot be found in an existing University resource, and sure can’t make the parents any less concerned about their child’s success.
If one of the problems is a language barrier impairing an international student, said center cannot provide English language tutoring or counseling any better than the existing international student services and academic support services already can.
I could list many more examples (i.e. problems that are not actually uniquely Asian), but my fundamental point is this: The proposed center does not provide enough benefits to outweigh the costs.
I’m not even talking about the financial cost to Cornell’s extremely strained budget. The center, in my opinion, carries the additional harmful cost of furthering the stereotype that Asians are just Asians, and nothing else.
For all of the commendable intentions the center was proposed for, I believe that the end result will ironically reinforce the racism that the those in support of the center are trying to fight. The center’s creation implies that being Asian inherently means you have “unique needs” and that the center will provide something uniquely beneficial to your kind.
Let’s get something straight. International students have specific needs. People with disabilities have specific needs. People struggling with academics have specific needs. People experiencing abuse or harassment have specific needs. There are Asian and non-Asian people in all of these categories, and each of these afflicted groups needs assistance on campus. But to assume that all people who happen to have roots in a really, really big continent called Asia need an additional center just for them is racist. I personally take offense to the notion that anyone knows all about my needs simply because I ticked the “Asian box” when I applied here. And I fear that many others will take offense to this too. Or worse, they’ll think it’s the truth.