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My Dear Friend and Roommate

CatWhisperer's picture

During my freshman year, I had the best roommate one could ask for. For the purposes of this assignment, I'm going to just call her Kim. She is a true Californian girl who's never had to brave the cold for longer than a week. Her parents came to San Fransisco from South Korea in their teens. Kim is a child prodigy. She is a stellar cellist and all-around academia-ist as well. She never scores lower than an 85%. She's also very in touch with her heritage. She goes to South Korea at least once a year to see her extended family. The suburb of SF where she lives has a very high population of Koreans. She's a very devout Roman Catholic. 

So when she moved to Bryn Mawr, she suffered quite a bit. She missed her family a lot, she missed her Korean support network that she had back home, she missed the warmth, she missed her church community, she missed everything about home. She told me that on the West Coast, people are much more welcoming of Asian populations. When Kim told people her given name, people would then ask her what her "real" name was. They falsely assumed that she had commandeered an English sounding name so Americans wouldn't have to struggle to pronounce her "real" one. This made her feel very unwelcome. Kim had to contend with the stereotype that Asians never need to ask for help, because they are the smartest race out of them all. That was part of the reason she didn't get help when she really needed it. Finally, she felt that her religious beliefs were under fire at Bryn Mawr. She always felt attacked and out of place when people tried to tell her that her beliefs about sex and marriage were a product of a patriarchial society and therefore "un-feminist". All of these reasons culminated in her transferring out of Bryn Mawr. 

I feel that culturally and societally, Bryn Mawr failed Kim. BMC has a reputation for being liberal, but I think the hivemind has a tendency to be too liberal. Just because Kim held conservative beliefs about relationships doesn't mean she deserved to be told that she's not a feminist. Catholisicm is what keeps her grounded (her words). As for the stereotypes, I feel that people should've known better than to treat her the way she was because of her Asian ethnicity. Her experiences trouble me quite a bit, in part because I was the one that stroked her hair when she cried about these things. I expect Bryn Mawr to do better for minorities in terms of making them feel welcome. 


jccohen's picture


Ah, this is a difficult story.  It sounds as if "Bryn Mawr failed Kim" and also that Kim's own sense of those "stereotypes...that Asians are the smartest race" got in the way of her contending with some of the difficulties she experienced here.  From your description I gather that Kim's connection with her religion came up against a kind of "hivemind" assumption about feminism that put her on the margins of social life at the college.  So my question is:  What kinds of interventions might Bryn Mawr have made/be making to encourage a more "welcoming" and inclusive culture?  Would Kim have wanted to engage in real, open dialogue about these issues of "difference," or might she have just wanted the acceptance and space to be herself, or...?