OPINION: Being an Asian American at UNO

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Sabrina Salrin
CONTRIBUTOR

“While I have faced numerous disappointments regarding what UNO offers and how it represents Asian American students, I appreciate what it has been able to provide, either in alternatives or recent supportive actions.” Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

In 2020, I confined myself to my home for five months straight. Reading about and watching the recent surge in anti-Asian hate crimes on social media heightened my fears and anxieties as an Asian American woman. At that time, very few COVID-related hate crimes had been reported in Nebraska. Nevertheless, I refused to leave my house unless I was equipped with a hat, sunglasses, and anything else that could hide the physical traits that were associated with being a threat. The only place other than my house that I felt safe and secure was closed due to the pandemic. So I waited those five months for UNO’s campus to reopen.

While I have always felt safe and supported at UNO, I’ve also felt underrepresented in the academic programs, student organizations, and on-campus faculty. Not seeing myself reflected in these aspects left me wondering if Asian Americans were even seen as POC or a minority group. I was admitted to UNO in 2018 with an opportunity to further my education and a complicated internal relationship with the institution.

After finally coming to terms with my Asian American identity in high school, I sought out a community for Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) students at UNO. I researched active student organizations for Asian Americans but failed to find any; even after visiting campus and asking multiple faculty members and students about an Asian Student Union, I was left disappointed.

My search was not limited to organizations, however. I had planned to minor in Asian or Asian American Studies at whatever institution I enrolled in but was met with an absence of a program at UNO. I refused to let the opportunity of pursuing my interests pass me, so I took action.

As an English major, I expressed my disappointment in the University not offering a course in Asian American literature to one of my professors. She addressed my concern in a meeting and later informed me that none of the professors had a sufficient background in that area, which is

why Asian American literature was not offered. The professor recommended I take an Independent Study course to satisfy my interest. Elated, I began preparing for a course on Contemporary East and Southeast Asian American literature with plans to potentially cover South and West Asian American literature in a later Independent Study.

Musing over the possibilities Independent Studies would be able to provide me allowed a temporary sense of satisfaction to wash over my spirits. It wasn’t until discovering an opportunity outside of academics that I realized how low my standards and expectations were.

During the summer of 2020, my fears and anxieties came to a brief halt when I was informed of a new Asian American Pacific Islander focus group at UNO. I sprung at the opportunity to join this group, despite knowing virtually nothing about it. Just knowing I would have a voice in how UNO could better serve AAPI students lifted boulders off my back.

The focus group allowed me to network with faculty, administration, and other AAPI students at UNO, express my disappointment with the lack of representation of Asian and Pacific American students, and collaborate with others to plan the first AAPI Heritage Month schedule of events at UNO since the early 2000s.

As of recent, I had experienced first-hand that the care UNO’s administration and faculty have for individual students’ wellbeing is not exclusive to our times of pride and joy. In response to the Atlanta shooting that killed eight people including six Asian American women, the university swiftly took action to support the Asian American community at UNO. I wish this support had been offered sooner, though it’s better late than never.

The week prior, my mental capacity had erupted due to a lack of support I felt from my friends, colleagues, and strangers on the internet who fetishized our cultures without care for our people. The fact that eight people had to be murdered for the media to begin reporting anti-Asian hate crimes and for the general public to demonstrate their support for our community made things worse. However, the added frustration and upset from this wasn’t initially noticeable. When you add water to a bucket already overflowing with it, what floods over the edges is all the same.

With the support of UNO’s community, I am working on recovering my mental health and reclaiming my identity from those who peg me and my fellow AAPIs as a threat. While I have faced numerous disappointments regarding what UNO offers and how it represents Asian American students, I appreciate what it has been able to provide, either in alternatives or recent supportive actions. UNO makes me feel seen and heard. But more importantly, UNO makes me feel safe.

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