2020-21 Voices of Change Essay Series

community members activate advances in catlin gabel curriculum and culture

While diversity, equity, and inclusion work has been a growing priority for the school in recent years, community involvement has accelerated as well. Students, parents, teachers, staff, and alumni have stepped up and are helping drive our ongoing evolution by taking action. They’re forming affinity groups, partaking in conferences, initiating diversity-focused fundraising campaigns, collecting empirical data, and documenting their lived experiences. The following stories represent a small sampling of this involvement.

Empowering Through Affinity

Issa Okamoto ’22, co-leader of the Upper School students' Asian Affinity Group

In our affinity group, we discover and explore our diverse racial identities and our personal journeys as humans living through these challenging times, particularly in Portland, Oregon, with its deep history of racial exclusion and discrimination. Historical stereotypes of Asians range from being peculiar, sly, deceptive, and dishonest to being the “model minority”—basically assimilated into white culture, without struggles and with great privilege. Neither is true, and both are harmful.

With the rise of attention towards the attacks against Asians and Asian Americans, and the use of slander like “kung flu” or the “Chinese virus,” it has been extremely important to support each other and generate ideas on how we can raise awareness about racism against Asians. It’s difficult to speak about these issues outside of the group—for cultural reasons, because of the stereotypes, and because regularly, especially in Portland, we hear that it’s "not our time to speak." Many also feel treated as one “Asian” race and monolithic group of people, rather than an intersectional collective of many different cultures and voices. We support and encourage each other to speak up, share our experiences, represent, advocate, and just be together.

It is also an exciting time in popular culture, with the rise in Asian representation in politics, activism, business, academia, and media, and we celebrate these together.

My hope is that it gets easier throughout the younger generations of Asian students to talk about their experiences and identities. The middle school to high school transition can be especially difficult for Asian American students, as we realize that our individual and collective experiences are important, and that we count as People of Color. The Upper School Asian Affinity group helps to support that transition.

Asian Affinity provides a space for us to learn and grow. I appreciate the school’s effort and commitment to support student-led conversations and am excited to see how the Asian Affinity group continues to provide a safe, welcoming, and empowering space for its Asian students and faculty.