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Social Justice Immersion Project:

Taking a Closer Look at Social Identity focusing on Asian American College Students
Haniyyah Bashir
University at Buffalo
ELP 513: Cultural Diversity in Higher Education
November 4, 2014


Taking a Closer Look on Social Identity focusing on Asian American College Students
As an African-American Muslim bisexual female, I face many adversities in todays
society being a member of several oppressed groups. With understanding my oppression, it is
important to examine my privilege of being educated and my abilities to hide parts of my
identity. For the purposes of this social immersion project and professional growth, I chose to
immerse myself in a culture different from my own with attempts to increase my knowledge on
another minority group-Asian Americans. Having the opportunity to be taught by an
International professor from Korea inspired me to further step outside my comfort zone to look
at the issues related to students with Korean cultural backgrounds. In this paper, I will further
explain why I selected this social identity group and the assumptions, biases, and stereotypes
regarding Asian Americans. Then, I will explore my reactions, feelings, and insights during the
attended Korean American Student Association (KASA) events. Lastly, I will reflect on the
lessons learned about Asian American college students specifically Korean American students
that will benefit my personal and professional growth.
Social Justice Immersion Project
The Proposal
Initially, I proposed to focus on Latin American students as a minority group on a predominantly white campus of a public research university, State University of New York:
University at Buffalo (UB). I attempted to think in their prospective and concentrate on the
issues faced, while celebrating the traditions and cultures of Latinos and Latinas. However, when
I attended several events and activities hosted by that association, I did not feel like I was really
challenging myself; I felt too comfortable with the Spanish language, cultural foods, and genres
of music. I was too experienced with individuals from that background. My best friend was


Colombian American. When I attended family functions with my best friend, her family mostly
spoke Spanish around each other and sometimes to me. There was some discomfort on my part
with the interactions that I had with her family in the beginning. I would not leave her side or
find a corner to sit in for the remainder of the events. But as the years passed, her family became
more welcoming to my English-speaking culture and embraced me with open arms.
While in college, I attended the Latin Heritage festival in Ithaca to celebrate the traditions
and customs during Latin Heritage month. I learned how to dance bachata, salsa, merengue, and
many other social dance forms of Latinos and Latinas. I may not speak Spanish very well, but I
feel comfortable being around individuals that do and can express myself in ways they will
understand me. I listen to different genres of Latino/Latina music on a daily basis. I attended the
Latin Social hosted by the Latin American Student Association (LASA). I realized this comfort
level that I feel with people of Latin descent is one that did not happen overnight, but it took
years for me to attain.
My goal was to take a closer look to find what challenged my comfort level and it
happened to be closer to my experiences than I thought. I am currently enrolled in ELP 513:
Cultural Diversity in Higher Education taught by Namsook Kim, who has a Korean cultural
background. Intrigued by this experience of having an Asian professor, I was interested in
focusing on the Asian American identity and the experiences through their studies and activities
at UB.
Asian American College Students
As Asian American college students, they are stereotyped as the Model Minority that
deal with the assumptions and biases of being super smart, quiet, great in Math, and do not speak
any good English. All of characteristics can be true about a person, but not because of their


racial identity. In efforts to immerse myself to an environment filled with Asian American
students, I attended the KASAs 6th General Body Meeting: Open Mic Night on October 14th at
7:30 p.m in SU 210. This is how it was advertised to the UB community: Have a talent or
something you want to share? Come out to our 6th GIM and perform! Our open mic night is
open to everyone! Microphones and amps will be set up but be sure to bring your own
instrument or anything else you'll need! Before I attended the open mic, I had my own set of
assumptions and biases:

Asian-American students are cliquey, exclusive, and unwelcoming.

Asian-American students only eat Asian foods.

Open Mic Night would consist of spoken word about the struggles of Asian American

Asian-American students would perform Asian songs and/or dances.

There would only be Asian-American students at the event.

In the entrance, there was a table set up to sign in to the general interesting meeting and

the event for their records of who attended and their contact emails. I was greeted very warming
as I went to sit in the back of room. Normally, I would sit in the front so I am able to participate,
but I wanted to be more observant and watch the behaviors of others. I did not want my presence
as an active audience participant to change the atmosphere. There were between 50-60 students
in attendance at this meeting/event. A large majority of the students were of Asian descent, while
the rest of the attendees were black and white. The event lasted about 2 hours and there were
only about 4 performances showcasing musical talents with guitar playing and singing abilities,
and Korean pop dance.


The students who chose to sing were singing American songs by American artists such as
Stay with Me by Sam Smith and My Boo by Usher and Alicia Keys. The audience was not
directly focusing on the performers. They would talk to their group of friends in their native
tongues, but then would clap when people were finished performing. They distributed pizza, an
American-Italian food that just about every student club or organization serves at events. As I
sitting in the event watching the performance, I spoke to a group of students who told me how
long meetings usual last. But, there was no further conversation as I would have liked it. They
just turned back around to their group of friends and thats when I noticed that I felt invisible.
Some of my assumptions were wrong, while others were confirmed just with this KASA
Reflecting on this KASA experience
When I left the event, I had many uncertainties about attending another group interest
meeting or being in an atmosphere where I was yet again another minority. But, the purpose of
the assignment was not to explore me and my feelings; it was to focus on the experiences of
Asian American students.
In reviewing several identity development models, Helmss people of color racial identity
development model seem most fitted to reflect on the students experiences. It designates the
experiences of racist stereotypes, biases, and internalized racism as core components of the
model, acknowledging the lived experiences people of color have as racialized beings. (Cooper,
Cuyjet, & Singh, 2011, p. 124) Out of the five ego statues: conformity, dissonance, immersionemersion, internalization, and integrated awareness, the Asian American students that attended
the events would be in between the internalization stage and the integrated awareness stage.


In the internalization stage, students embrace a bicultural way of living by adopting and
representing a positive image and valuing their cultural background. Since the students chose to
be a part of this student association and this campus activity, they are embracing their culture and
looking to learn more about their identity. They are combining their experiences with their
culture and their experiences with the dominant white American culture in this open mic event
singing and performing American songs, but continuing to be in their counter space of similar
faced individuals enjoying pizza.
In the integrated awareness stage, the Asian American students are able to see the
highlights of their racial identity and appreciate it while being aware and respecting the values of
other cultural groups. For the students to reach this stage, they would have to do more than just
encourage audience members to participate regardless of background. It would be interesting for
the members of the Korean American Student Association to participate in other student racial
group meetings and events on campus like the Caribbean Student Association, which I would
consider to be a demonstration of appreciating other racial values and concerns and discuss those
experiences with their club.
Reflecting on Invisibility as an Emotion
Those dont look like people in power will feel invisible and in fact be invisible, because
they are routinely overlooked. (Johnson, p. 95) Having the experience of being one of the only
black people in the room full of other minorities made me feel invisible. Invisible meaning that
no one noticed my race or that I was new in this setting, nor were they concerned about my
reasoning for being present. This reflection allowed me to take a closer look to why it was so
important that they noticed my presence or acknowledge my current minority status. Who am I?
Where do I fall in the Social Identity Development Theory?


I am in Stage Five: Redefinition of the Social Identity Development Theory. I am
creating an identity that is independent of an oppressive system based on hierarchical
superiority and inferiority.(Hardiman & Jackson) I have felt negatively about being a part of a
black social group because I was socialized to think that there is something wrong with black
people. Black people are known to be ignorant, aggressive, and make poor life choices. I tried to
disassociate myself by attending a pre-dominantly white institution, Wells College, for my
undergraduate degree instead of pursuing a degree from a Historically Black College and
University. Through my undergraduate career, I tried to stay clear of being associated with the
group of black students until I realized that I needed to be around people who look like me. As an
African American, I need to have a comfort space to discuss issues that I am facing on a regular
basis with faculty, staff, and other students. Therefore, I created a black student organization at
Wells called Umoja that educates and celebrates African-American culture.
I am an agent in the Redefinition stage as I am developing a sense of black pride and
personal esteem. It is a journey, not a destination. Pursuing my graduate degree, I am noticing
there a significantly smaller amount of black people in my classes, which establishing more pride
in being an African-American enrolled in the Higher Education Administration program at UB.
For Black Solidarity Day, I attended Black Student Unions day of activities in the Student Union
flag that included a guest speaker from the African American studies department, unity rally,
bracelet and pillow making, and sharing of food. Being a part of the Unity Rally wearing all
black was a defining moment for me. We marched around campus shouting empowering phrases
such as, Im Black and Im Proud, Black is beautiful, and Black power. It was more
important that as a group of people that we understood, although we are oppressed, we are more
powerful with knowledge than we know.


Developing Multicultural Competence
My experiences with Asian American college students helped with the development of
my multicultural competence personally and professional. A higher education professional
appreciates that multicultural awareness is a process and occurs on a continuum that is shaped by
individuals and group identity and experiences and cannot be forced to change through any
specific intervention or change effort. (Pope, Reynolds, Mueller, p. 54) Multicultural
competence is not a destination; it is a journey that never ends. I thought I had multicultural
competence because I was able to appreciate cultures different from my own. Once I realized
that it is also about celebrating the culturally similarities, I knew I had some work to do. Raising
awareness about different cultures and embracing cultural similarities are a part of our learning
experiences. As a student affairs professional, I will facilitate dialogues that will sometimes feel
uncomfortable, because feelings of discomfort is a normal and necessary part of gaining critical
consciousness. (Watt, p. 67) Every day I hope to learn something new about my identity that
will help better understand other identities. As long as I am aware of the problems being faced, I
am able to do something to evoke change. We have to talk about these issues of privilege, power,
and difference. This social justice immersion project was not the beginning and it will definitely
not be the end.


Cuyjet, M. J., Howard-Hamilton, M. F., Cooper, D. L. (Eds.). (2011) Multiculturalism on
campus: Theory, models, and practices for understanding diversity and creating
inclusion. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Johnson, A. G. (Ed.). (2006) Privilege, power, and difference (2nd ed.). New York: McGrawHill.
Hardiman, R., Jackson, B.W. Conceptual foundations for social justice courses
Pope, R. L., Reynolds, A. L., & Mueller, J. A. (2014). Creating multicultural change on
campus. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Watt, S.K. (2007) Difficult dialogues, privilege and social justice: Uses of the privileged identity
exploration (PIE) model in student affairs practice.