by Jisu Song
Jisu Song is a sophomore from Richmond, Virginia not decided in major but minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). She has been involved with the Race & Racism Project since 2019 and is currently serving in the Oral History Team. As a student, she is an executive member in WILL*, member of Sirens, and a peer advisors and mentors. She hopes to work for global audiences.
After I moved to the United States, I always looked for the space that I could express my pure self to the community. Moving to the United States, the very first feeling that I felt was about the necessity to fit into the predominantly white culture. I always lived in a predominantly white environment. I was privileged enough to live in a safe and studious environment, but I always found myself not fitting into the culture. I found myself not understanding people’s context, especially in the entertainment culture. For example, because I spend my childhood in Japan, I grew up watching Japanese animations, such as Ghibli, while many of my friends grew up with Disney Chanel, Nickelodeon, and more American TV shows. I found myself lost in the conversations and started to avoid conversations. Resulting from these practices led me to have two different personas. I always thought that what I do at home and at school should be different because I present myself differently. I found myself losing my Asian identification in the public.
During the college application season, I was hoping for a new change. I was hoping that I would get into the school that invites diverse community. After I learned about the number of students who go to study abroad and the number of diverse origins that university accepted, I decided to attend the University of Richmond. I understood that I would be bringing diversity into the class, but I also was hoping that I would have my space to feel safe. I imagined that class would be more diverse and open for diverse opinions and stories. However, the reality was very different than my expectation. I found myself being the only student of color in many classes and expressing different opinions from the majority. I was looked as a student who had different experiences and opinions from others. During the first semester, I tried to find a safe place where the community that welcomes and includes me. Although I joined different organizations and met diverse friends, the campus culture that was already formed stopped me from expressing my true self to people. I was acting the way that people expected me to be, such as being quiet, unopinionated, and serious.
Race & Racism has allowed me to think deeply about how to share my feelings to a huge audience as an Asian Woman. Race & Racism have done oral history from last year. One oral history that I looked into was from Dr. Jesse Moore, a graduate in 1981, ‘On Campus but Not Welcomed’. His podcast [made by Rena Xiao, a 2018 summer fellow] talks about how he felt unwelcome at the University of Richmond. He mentions that during his time when he attended the University, there were only 33 Black students. He mentions that he was not feeling welcomed in the business school because he was the only black student, not dressed the same way as other students, and more. Specifically, he did not have conversations with many people at B-school. Many people just left him out of the conversations, even professors. Only one professor from Business school tried to approach and talk to him back in the time. He mentions that there was an “invisible wall” between himself and other UR students by not talking. Not only his oral history piece demonstrates that the university was divisive, but some of the past exhibits also prove that there was a racist atmosphere across the campus in the past. One of the pictures that I looked in the exhibit shows that there were racist themed in the fraternity party. Students were wearing KKK mask surrounding the black student as a joke. The fact that this picture was nominated to be in the yearbook demonstrates that there were countless people across the campus proving this atmosphere to exist even though there were students of color on campus. The University of Richmond tries to look like an inclusive community to many future incoming spiders. The university tries to depict campus as inclusive by emphasizing the admission of Barry Greene before the Civil Right Act signed [Editor’s clarification: While Greene was admitted in 1968, the university emphasizes that some Black students were admitted before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and conflates the history in the timeline available at urhistory.richmond.edu] In the outlook, the university looks like they are changing towards inclusive campus before the law passed but the fact that minority students share similar emotion in 1981 and now proves that the university’s racist atmosphere has not yet changed. Is it possible that our campus displays only the good facts to show that it is an inclusive campus?
I still feel connected to Dr. Moore’s feelings while he was attending the university back then. Although the number of students of color has increased and the campus itself is trying to be more inclusive, the divisive campus culture is still present. I just wonder if there was any change in the atmosphere of campus from the fact that I feel connected with Dr. Moore’s oral history. There is still a racist atmosphere that is present in the campus culture. I hope that school won’t portray as they are welcoming every race on campus while the campus culture exists to exclude minority students to feel safe to raise their opinions. The fact that I still found myself being the only students of color in the club, class, and community, I just wonder how the inclusive campus is forming. There are only changes happening in the outside to show outer people that university is inclusive and reforming to welcome more diverse students. I really hope that in the future, the inclusive atmosphere will be formed on our campus and have a place for students of color to feel welcome and safe.