In light of recent events on campus, the Mass Media spoke to members of various cultural organizations regarding their views on being a minority student, their experiences of racism on campus, and how they feel the university is handling said issues. The following centers and clubs were interviewed: Casa Latinx, Hoy Pinoy, the Black Student Center and the Asian Student Center.
*Note: All interviews were conducted separately. The interview with the BSC was conducted via email, the Casa Latinx and Asian Student Center interviews via Zoom, and the Hoy Pinoy interview in person.
Question: Can you tell us your position within your organization?
Nattalya Brown (CL): My name is Nattalya Brown, I am the assistant coordinator here at Casa Latinx.
Shanarah Bargan (HP): My name is Shanarah, I use she/her pronouns. I am a fourth year management student, and I am also the president of the Filipino American Club, Hoy Pinoy.
Ashley Nicolas (BSC): I am the Black Student Center Coordinator and President.
Huy Vuong (ASC): My name is Huy Vuong, I'm the coordinator of the Asian Student Center here at UMass Boston.
Q: How did you get involved with your organization?
Brown (CL): My mom actually went to UMass Boston, so she told me about some of the centers. My Orientation Leader happened to be a member, and she was able to actually bring me up here and show me around and talk about it. So, I kind of knew firsthand what to expect and what the center did.
Bargan (HP): When I was a senior in high school and getting ready to go to college, I was at a performance for a Philippine Independence Day celebration and saw this team. They were doing this dance with bamboo sticks that I had never seen before, and I thought it was super cool. They announced that they were the Philippine club Hoy Pinoy from UMass Boston and I was like, "Oh no way, I’m going there." When I was fully a freshman and got started, I went to the involvement fair and went to their table and I was like, "Hi, I saw you guys perform and you guys were super cool." They were like "Cool, you should sign up," and I signed up, but I got too scared and nervous so I didn’t talk to them for a while. Eventually, one of the older members reached out to me and she was like, "Come to these events," and eventually, I became more and more involved at the club.
Nicolas (BSC): I found out about the BSC through word of mouth and eventually was able to join the eBoard as their event planner.
Vuong (ASC): At first I wanted to be more involved in extracurriculars, especially at UMass Boston, and in the past I've been a part of [ . . . ] throwing events and stuff like that. So when I found out that UMass Boston had a club/center for the Asian students, I reached out to the coordinator at the time and said: "I'm really interested in getting involved, are there any more positions available?" And that's how I got started
Q: What is your experience being a minority on campus?
Brown (CL): That’s kind of tricky, because I came from a predominantly white town for most of my education, so for me this [campus] seems pretty diverse compared to what I was used to. So, it’s actually kind of a shocker whenever people refer to UMass Boston as a predominantly white institution [ . . .] I feel like you still have a little bit of everything going. You kind of meet someone for everywhere.
Bargan (HP): It’s definitely been difficult. I think it’s just with everything that’s been going on, there’s this concept in Filipino culture, “Isang Bagsak”, that I’ve been thinking about a lot. It started with Larry Itliong out in California in the 1980s or whatever, but the whole idea was the idea of solidarity between the Mexican farmers and the Filipino farmers who were being used for their cheap labor. At the end of everyday’s harvest they would do this thing “Isang Bagsak”, which translates literally to “one falls”. It’s the whole idea that if one falls, we all fall, and I think just especially in relation to Philippine identity, we are a very collectivist culture. [ . . . ] To sort of re-conceptualize as an American and especially being a minority in America, my community includes other BIPOC individuals. And yeah, we haven’t had to endure as much, [but] there’s still a lot of anti-Asian hate happening right now, but there [haven’t] been any slurs written on the campus so far that are attacking specifically Asian-American[s] or Filipino-Americans. But the fact that our brothers and sisters and siblings are getting attacked, [ . . . ], that means that if we’re not all free, then are we really free? If we’re not all protected under the same rights and like the same respect then our respect doesn’t matter. I think we kind of just stand in solidarity, keep up to date with other groups like UMass Boston Coalition or Black Student Center, what they’re doing and just trying to support however we can and center their voices while also contributing to our experiences.
Nicolas (BSC): When I first came to campus, I was so nervous about not being able to find a space on campus to be with people who resembled me. I struggled to make friends in my classes because I would walk into all my major course classes, and [they] would be filled with a majority of non-POC students who already had their groups. It wasn't until I found the Black Student Center on campus that I was able to feel like I belonged on campus, and I had a support group of people backing me.
Huong (ASC): I'm an international student, so when I got here, I pretty much kept to myself in my first year. But in my second year, I opened myself up to more of the students and life on campus. I got to hear what other students around me, both Asian and Asian-Americans, [felt were] problems: [some] specifically for college students, like commuting, to others like cultural issues as well, like family issues, dealing with strict parents, or stuff like that. But more recently [ . . .] as a minority, the biggest issue that I had to deal with and help my members with was with COVID, and the racism and attacks that my members and my friends had to undergo. Personally, I haven't experienced it, at least not firsthand or directly, or [I’ve] not noticed it, but my friends and student members have experienced it, and that hurts them emotionally.
Q: Have you ever experienced any racism or micro-aggressions while being at UMass Boston?
Brown (CL): Maybe like micro-aggressions, but [those are] something maybe that I would be desensitized to. Not any really blatant racism. Nothing directed towards me.
Bargan (HP): A lot of the ones I’ve experienced have been, I don’t want to say benign, but definitely more micro-aggression. There was one instance with a professor where there was material used in class that had anti-Asian micro-aggressions in it and I brought it up to them. They listened to me in the end, but they made it sound like it wasn’t a big deal and that I was upset for nothing, which was really frustrating. Most of my experiences have been kind of like being gaslit into thinking it actually wasn’t a big deal.
Nicolas (BSC): During the election, all the center coordinators hosted pre- and post-election office hours that allowed for a safe space for students to come and voice their concerns about what may happen after the election results were post[ed]. During the pre-election office hours, I was Zoom-bombed by six students who entered the Zoom room under false names and proceeded to scream derogatory terms at me and screech like monkeys. It was a jarring and horrendous experience.
Huong (ASC): I have not experienced racism or micro-aggressions at UMass Boston, but yeah, people that I know have. But not me personally.
Q: How do you feel the university is handling issues surrounding race and diversity? What advice would you give to the university?
Brown (CL): I think there are thoughts and ideas being formulated around having more diverse platforms, I just think that we are falling short in giving support to the students, even though we want to have incentive in those spaces. I just feel like it just follows the typical education system, and [is] not pushing students to take those elective courses like Women and Gender Studies or Africana Studies.
Bargan (HP): I think that the university should really be tapping into their students. I know that we have had these panels and that has been with student leaders and stuff, but even [then] there’s a certain aspect of labor that is associated with that. The student leaders that they reach out to are usually students who hold positions in the university, whether you’re a club leader or you are a student employee. Those are the leaders they’re looking at. I think if the university really wants to be intentional, start with the centers, with these organized groups, but use them as a resource to get to the students who aren’t as involved. Because their voices are important, and if they’re being overlooked because they don’t have a formal position, then we’re not actually serving our community.
Nicolas (BSC): *did not respond to this question*
Huong (ASC): With these issues that come up, I feel like the university is more reactionary whenever a new concern or a new problem arises. Not to say that universities should prepare for any type or all types of situations, because it's really hard to predict and understand hate crimes like this, but just from my perception, the university has always been more reactionary than precautionary. I [think] my advice [would be to] be more active with the population of your university. So, go above and beyond emailing [ . . . ]. Check in, in person now that that is possible. Meet and interact with your student population, rather [than] through email.
Q: What do you want people to know about you and the center?
Brown (CL): It’s a good space to learn about Latinx culture and community. It’s a very diverse space in terms of the Latino community. We have really awesome resources connecting to other spaces on campus.
Bargan (HP): Hoy Pinoy is the Philippine Culture Club here on campus. It was originally started by a group of friends who wanted to hang out and have a good time, so we’ve always been pretty chill and laid-back. Something that brought us all together was being excited about our culture and putting on events. Overall it’s just a place for people to get to be around folks who are lively and excited to be here, and who are also sharing their culture.
Nicolas (BSC): I want people to know that the BSC is here and we're welcoming to everyone! We're located on the third floor of the Campus Center, and we would love to have people join us for our events and our discussions.
Huong (ASC): Like I said, I'm an international student, so I've taken a lot of Asian American studies classes, and I love my friends at Asian American Studies as well. So, I empathize a lot with Asian Americans, and at the same time I know what my international student peers have experienced or may experience as well. I am the coordinator, so I am the resource by the school. Outside of all the serious stuff, like dealing with any issues, I'm also a very big social person. The Asian Student Center is a very big social place. Aside from the resources and professional things that we offer, it is also a very big social, physical hangout spot for Asian students as well.
**The Queer Student Center was also contacted for an interview but did not respond to the Mass Media's interview request.**