To the best of my knowledge, I am one of only two non-international, non-adopted Chinese students at my university of nearly 2,500 undergraduates. In areas like the Northeast and California, we are a fairly sizable population, termed the "first- or second-generation Chinese children" by Amy Chua, described as "model minorities" by various publications trying to explain why it's so hard for us to get into top universities, and generally regarded as a pretty fascinating blend of two wildly different cultures.
Most of us are "ABCs," a clever acronym for American-Born-Chinese, and although I immigrated from China at the age of three, my earliest memories are all in America. In the top 20 colleges, ABCs are in danger of being overrepresented, but in other pockets of the U.S., there are few to none. However, it is at all kinds of institutions where if you were to have a dollar for every time you heard the word "diversity," you could probably pay off your student loans in a month or so.
Before I go any further: Diversity is great. It's excellent, difficult to define, and a wonderful and integral part of any environment, be it college or the real world. It is, in fact, still an issue at America's top schools. There is one other word, however, that I've heard mentioned almost as often as the "diversity" buzzword, and it is something that makes me wonder if our universities truly believe in the idea for its inherent and immeasurable value.
The word I am talking about is "deal."
Now I'm fortunate enough to be a returning Orientation Leader at my college, where our gargantuan set of responsibilities includes being sensitive to any and all issues that new students may have. Our school has recently undertaken large-scale endeavors to increase diversity in the student body, and this year's incoming class has the highest number of international students in the history of the school. A large proportion of these international students are from China: so many, in fact, that we have had special sessions about these Chinese students and how we are supposed to, I quote, "deal" with them.
As one of my closest friends dryly put it, one "deals" with pesky gnats or genital herpes. You "deal" with a busy workweek or a mundane task that you've been assigned. I cannot believe that you genuinely care about a given group of human beings if you say that you need to "deal" with them.
A few years ago I visited a top medical school in the Northeast and ended up having a long conversation with one of the professors, who also serves on the admissions committee. The professor told me that they interviewed a student with a 43 MCAT (almost impossibly perfect) and a 4.0 GPA from a Forbes Top 10 school, who nearly clinched that coveted acceptance letter, until said professor noticed one word in their personal statement that cost that student entrance to one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world.
The word was "deal," used in the context of "dealing" with patients.
Call it a Freudian slip if you will, or even offer the benefit of the doubt and suggest that they do not mean or know what they are saying. But language, as intricate and multifaceted as it is, does not lie, and our society's vernacular makes it clear.
I am not an international student, at least not how most colleges define it. But I am an Asian woman, one who loves her unique mix of American and Chinese culture, and I have experienced firsthand what a harmless word can manifest. People who "deal" with "diverse" students are usually the people who perpetuate the stereotype that all Asian women are docile, meek creatures who exist to cater to the whims of rich Caucasian men. Of all the Asian women I have met, not a single one is the image of the fragile, subservient doll-like character. They are fiery, intrepid, passionate women, even when they are introverted or shy; this stereotype has no more grounding in reality than the claim that white men cannot jump.
Diversity is not a commodity. I hear discussions where "diversity" is tossed around like you can pick it up at a rollback price at Wal-Mart. It is not something you can fake or purchase; it is about as easy to pin down as a cloud.
I am in no way devaluing the noble and well-meaning efforts of university administrators across America to foster a more cohesive and accepting environment in their respective schools. I am arguing for awareness of one small four-letter word, one that speaks volumes, one that just might reflect lingering attitudes towards accented foreigners who eat different things. I realize that it is arguably impossible to show the average American what it is like for a Chinese student in a U.S. college, but try to imagine going to a different country and listen to countless speakers tell the native population how to "deal" with people who look like you.
Don't "deal" with us anymore. Work with us, care for us, respect us, encourage us, and above all, accept us. Perhaps then we can stop emphasizing our differences, and start focusing on how we can work together.