An Open Letter to the AHANA Community

It was very much a culture shock for me when I came to Boston College. The daughter of Cambodian immigrants, I grew up in urban Lowell, Mass.  Like many freshmen, much of my first year was spent in confusion, trying to figure out who exactly I wanted to be. Eventually I identified as an AHANA student, and even found comfort and pride within the community. Recent events have led me to question this place of comfort. Conversations I would have with another AHANA student about race would rile me up, and often I recognized that I would let it manifest into anger. As I reflect on these conversations, I see that it is not uncommon for many AHANA students to experience something similar.

AHANA students have a lot to be angry about. For instance, the AHANA population has grown to 30 percent of the student population since the word’s inception, but the resources for AHANA students have largely stayed the same. However, I cannot help but wonder if for other instances, this anger holds us back. For me, the most notable example comes from this past UGBC presidential election. Before I knew it, the election boiled down to issues concerning race. Though not all AHANA students supported one team, it was clear whom the majority supported. Their support in itself was not the concern. What I was troubled by was how the conversation manifested into AHANA versus white. Very quickly passion became misplaced anger. While each campaign offered different platforms, the election quickly became about right vs. wrong. One team was not more right than the other.  Unfortunately this became the basis for some people’s decisions. In the end, one of the candidates was unfairly deemed by some a racist.  Though many from the other campaign may not have believed it, they certainly implied that of the candidate.

From my experience during the campaign, my group of AHANA friends expected me to support one of the teams because I was an AHANA student. This expectation led me to feel as though the AHANA community really was not a community to begin with. A community should respect difference, but in this case doing something differently from the majority of the AHANA population made them look at me differently, sometimes disparagingly. I felt not only the disappointment in their voices but also their anger through their actions. As a result, I felt isolated within the AHANA population. Part of that was my fault. I did not engage in conversations with them when they questioned my support for the opposing team. However, responsibility also lies with the overwhelming number of AHANA students that supported the other team. They made me feel like I let them down for “wearing the wrong color” and being on the “wrong side.” The people I felt most comfortable with, the people I trusted the most made me feel like an outsider. Though I can only speak from my experiences, I do not doubt that other students felt this way too.

Our anger symbolizes how much passion we, as AHANA students, have for our beliefs, but it has also shown how we can be a hindrance to our progress. What have we done with our anger? We usually express it to another AHANA student giving us a chance to bond over similar plights. However, that is where we usually stop.  Our anger does not translate into progress. What we should be doing is making what it means to be an AHANA student a learning experience for white students and the same thing must be done vice versa. Just as much as being a student of color is the world that we AHANA students know, being a white student is the world that white students know. I think AHANA students can easily forget that “whiteness” is an identity and there is plenty to learn from a white student’s experience.

In the end, I did not write this piece to criticize AHANA students. I wrote it to offer a different paradigm through which we can approach things. As AHANA students, we often highlight what BC lacks. Maybe we should start looking at the things that we have to help close the gaps. As Marianne Williamson once said, “In every community, there is work to be done … in every heart, there is the power to do it.” I believe that all BC students have that power; we just have to get past the anger.

written by Sue Ly

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