It's September and students are going back to school in an unprecedented time. We asked five Asian American college students to share their experiences and thoughts on the global pandemic, the social justice movement, and the year we will never forget.
This is 2020 as told by Gen-Z.
Sunou Kim, United States Naval Academy
"I learned that kindness to oneself is extremely important especially during this pandemic and
the changes that are occurring."
Being an Asian American college student during this global pandemic has been difficult and frustrating because of people trying to blame the pandemic on the Asian and Asian American community, especially in the beginning. It has been a struggle against the conspicuous prejudice in our nation. I hope that we are able to unify as one to combat the apparent hardships of the pandemic.
My hopes for the future is for progress and advancement in the leadership field, especially in terms of the government. I know that the social justice movement is making leaps and bounds for people of color. However, there is a major disconnect between those seeking change and those already in power that are trying to create change. I think that an improvement in leadership is needed and support the need for change.
I have understood what it means to persevere and have faith in my own abilities. It is hard to be a student as well as being trained to lead sailors or marines in the United States Navy, and sometimes I felt inadequate in my approach to certain training or attempting to multitask in the Naval Academy. However, I learned that kindness to oneself is extremely important especially during this pandemic and the changes that are occurring. I have been able to understand myself more whenever challenges arise during the pandemic, which allows me to continue to pursue my ambitions with my head held high, knowing that I can handle the unforeseen challenges that I never thought I could succeed in.
Leanne Mattern, School of Visual Arts
"In everything I do, I want to use my voice and opinion to make a change and allow myself to
News of the pandemic and it affecting school came out right after spring break at the beginning of March. After almost two full days of school since spring break, my school announced that they would close the school for a week and let us know what their plans were. From there, they announced online classes for the rest of the semester.
I was lucky that I had no serious encounters with racists during what our president calls the "China Virus." In the beginning, I noticed a few people purposely scooting away from me or staring on the subway. After quarantining though, most comments I saw were online. Some were very serious racist comments and others were memes, still very racist.
I hope that more people can become educated on current events and ideologies. I hope they take time to learn that everything they say and do has weight and should not be taken lightly. In this era its important to hold people accountable and educate them. Our voices are loud and powerful, whether its starting a revolution against the system of oppressors or sitting down and educating someone close to us. It is important to continue to learn and support and stand up for ourselves and others.
My 2020 New Years resolution was to stand up for myself and my opinion and not let myself be overshadowed. When I made this resolution I couldn't predict what this year would bring. In fact, the original context was to be louder to my friends in suggesting lunch options or what movie we should all watch. But now, I realize how relevant it is on a bigger scale. In everything I do, I want to use my voice and opinion to make a change and allow myself to be heard.
Joonyoung Lee, New York University
"I hope that our generation will shape our future without demeaning and disadvantaging others simply because of who they are."
There’s good and bad in everything, and I definitely think the same goes for my academics during this pandemic. Obviously, it’s not ideal having to take courses online and to not be able to see friends, but I’ve also taken this time to be a lot more productive in my own personal interests and give myself the mental reset I need.
As an Asian American student, it has been difficult seeing headlines about Asians everywhere experiencing harassment due to xenophobia driven by COVID, but I also think that these accounts have brought underlying racism to the forefront. Us younger Asian Americans are addressing and bringing change to these issues louder than ever through social media.
The rights that people fought for during the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Stonewall riots were meant to bring change to society, yet we're still fighting these same fights decades later. My hopes are that the children of today will grow up to be color-blind in the sense that all people will be seen as people and nothing less. I hope that law enforcement will change to become a place of protection rather than a place of misplaced power and bigoted attacks. I hope that our generation will shape our future without demeaning and disadvantaging others simply because of who they are.
I've learned that I worry too much about other people, and I've learned to focus more on myself than anything else. It took quarantining to realize that I was constantly stressed because I was striving to satisfy others at the expense of my own goals. I was going out of my way to try and please others, when the only person I needed to be making proud was myself. I've realized that if my goals and my respective actions in order to achieve these goals burden others, then maybe they aren't the people I should have surrounding me.
Eugene Ahn, Georgia Institute of Technology
"The coronavirus... made me realize that it’s ok to rely on other people for support."
I had a difficult time adjusting to online classes. I find it hard to motivate myself to work as hard as I did when classes were in person. Everything just seems different. I also miss the social aspect of college.
I just wish for everyone to be more accepting towards others, despite their differences. I wish the world were a kinder place – one where people are celebrated for being different.
I learned that I have a difficult time handling things alone. I thought that – since I’m more introverted – the coronavirus wouldn’t affect my life too hard, but the coronavirus, along with my breakup and other unfortunate events, made me realize that it’s ok to rely on other people for support. The coronavirus made me feel more grateful for my friends in my life.
Michelle Cho, University of Chicago
"I’ve seen how alike we all are. From celebrities to neighbors, we’ve all felt vulnerable and have had a lot of the same fears/realizations about how much is completely out of our control"
So much has suddenly changed due to this pandemic and it seems hard to remember life before COVID when seeing my friends wasn’t putting people in danger, “quarantine” wasn’t in my everyday vocabulary, and I had never even heard of Zoom. I often found my mind wandering during class either reminiscing about the things I took for granted or imagining what the future might look like. School quickly takes a backseat when you and your family’s lives may be at stake.
I am grateful that this movement forces everyone to confront the racial injustices that have been and continue to occur in this country, no matter how uncomfortable some may be with dealing with them. I see very slow progress, but remain hopeful that we can continue to change outdated and inhumane mindsets in order to live in peace, understanding each others’ experiences and creating equal opportunities, resources, and treatment for humans regardless of race in this country. Though that may still be a ways away, the first step in the right direction to finding solutions to these deep and often subconscious biases is the awareness and acknowledgement of our own.
I’ve learned how much I took things like hugs, social events, and restaurants for granted, and how much these small things can make my day. I’ve seen how alike we all are. From celebrities to neighbors, we’ve all felt vulnerable and have had a lot of the same fears/realizations about how much is completely out of our control and that we aren’t as invincible as we may think we are. I’ve learned I can pretty much get through anything with patience and flexibility, even when the future has never looked so uncertain. I’ve learned what makes me happy and what makes each day enjoyable for me, as this year has really stripped things down to its bones. I’ve learned about my privileges, and also about others’ disadvantages. I’ve found stronger footing in my beliefs and have realized that I haven’t been doing enough about the issues that matter to me, and that I can always better educate myself. Finally, I’ve learned how much I can mentally/emotionally grow in a year.