Student groups should use heritage months to combat stereotypes

April is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Celebration month at GW and student organizations are hosting events to promote and teach others about their culture and discuss their experiences. Although this month should be a celebration, it is also a time to reflect on how our community is treated on campus.

As a Chinese international student, I know there are differences within the Chinese international student community and other racial and cultural communities on campus. But the majority of students at GW don’t know the differences. Oftentimes, students do not acknowledge distinctions between cultural communities and then stereotype them based on where they are from. To combat this, student groups should use designated months that celebrate their heritage as a way to directly address how international and multicultural students are perceived and treated on campus, especially as national news spreads with politicians targeting certain groups.

Students from one particular background are not all the same, and they deserve to be treated as individuals. But in recent months, that has become less of a reality. There has been increased criticism of Chinese organizations on college campuses. When national news hits targeting a certain community, stereotyping increases and more people see individuals only for their nationality. International students are often seen as representatives of their home country instead of individual people with their own thoughts and ideas.

Student groups should use designated months that celebrate their heritage as a way to directly address how international and multicultural students are perceived and treated on campus

About two months ago, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized the Confucius Institute – an organization that teaches Chinese language and culture on college campuses – as a way for the Chinese government to export allegedly false information and facilitate soft power into the U.S.

After two Texas congressmen also criticized the institute, Texas A&M University terminated its Confucius Institute on campus last week. The Confucius Institute, with 110 chapters across the country, including at GW, was not the only Chinese-affiliated institution that recently came under scrutiny. GW’s chapter of Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which has a primary goal of supporting Chinese students studying in the U.S., was also regarded as a means for paid political mobilization on college campuses. However, the Confucius Institute is run by administrators with no formal agreements with the Chinese government. The organization provides a comfortable environment for Chinese international students as well as a resource for students interested in learning Mandarin or exploring Chinese culture.

Just like assumptions are made about the institute, similar stereotypes are perpetuated about me. Although I’m a student from China, assumptions often made about Chinese people – like being socially and politically conservative – don’t accurately define me or all other Chinese students. It is damaging for American students to stereotype international students, based on where they are from or where they are perceived to be from, before actually interacting with them.

Although students from one foreign country may at first glance be categorized with a stereotypical label, no one fits neatly into those boxes. These differences are why universities exist – They function as a critical platform for students to come together and be exposed to a variety of perspectives, whether it’s through classes or daily interactions. Across all cultures, it takes time for students to discard the influence of stereotypes and assumptions, whether it is students from abroad or domestic students. That is why it is important for students to recognize international students as individuals, not just people from the same background. These conversations can and should be facilitated regularly by student groups and specifically during months that celebrate that heritage.

It is important for students to recognize international students as individuals, not just people from the same background.

To ensure students don’t judge each other based on their assumptions, GW should also maintain and further foster connections with not only Chinese students, through organizations like the Confucius Institute and CSSA, but also for students across the globe to promote understanding. Students should consider attending Confucius Institute and CSSA events to lessen the power of assumptions and create better experiences between students, and this should also be applied to other multicultural organizations.

Students from minority groups do not resemble the uniform stereotypes they are often assigned. And cultural organizations must serve as essential resources that allow others to learn. Students should acknowledge and remain critical about their assumptions, and they can be mitigated by going to events like the Night Market April 27 that will showcase cuisines and performances from different Asian cultures or watching “When Elephants Fight” with the Institute for African Studies April 19. Increasing minority representation at GW benefits us all by adding new voices and perspectives to campus, but students must remain cognizant that there are differences and complexities in every culture and they all deserve to be heard.

Marx Wang, a sophomore double majoring in political science and philosophy, is a Hatchet columnist.

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