Lulls in Life

As I have been bouncing through senior year, I’ve done one significant thing differently: I have not been journaling. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, because I’m not storing precious memories and am not proactively reflecting. But I would at least like to take the chance to reflect right now because I feel like I have miles and miles of unsearched territory in life all around me, and I’m not moving in any direction.

It’s shocking to think that once school starts, it’s so easy to get into the groove. The groove, I’ve found, can mean one of two things: either you got your shit together and feel hella productive, or you’re blindly going through meaningless motions. I find myself in the latter pool at the moment.

The core questions I always go back to:

  1. Why am I here? Why am I at Stanford, and why am I on this Earth?
  2. Why am I taking these classes? What’s the point of these classes and how important are they to my life?
  3. Do I find myself feeling fulfilled from my day to day life?
  4. Why do I always feel so tired and low in energy when I have so much life to live?

I will leave this [incomplete].

Precious Summer Thoughts

September 2 notes the conclusion of the internship.

September 3 notes the flight over that other coast on the west.

Let this post be an attempt to disentangle the cobweb in my brain that are my thoughts from this summer. Let’s go.

When in NY…

Undeniably summer 2016 will be remembered as the summer I ventured outside of my bubble at Stanford and the Bay into NYC. Far away from many friends and family that could have supported me at any point. Honestly, it was liberating. Can you imagine the fun and games two girls can have living all by themselves in the middle of Manhattan? The weekends were ours to plan, without any sort of obligation like family outings and appointments to attend. There were the occasional visits from friends, but those weren’t seen as duties, more like opportunities to explore cool places in New York that we ourselves haven’t been to!

But of course, there are the not-so-great parts. Like, how NYC is indeed so cramped that garbage bags lie in heaps stacked on top of each other, awaiting their ride to the dumpster. It’s a foul smell, as you can imagine. Or like, how Times Square would really be a lovely place with its lights and all if it didn’t take more than a few minutes to cross one simple intersection. Pedestrians (cough cough, tourists) need to have their own transportation system over there. Or like how, the city is small enough to be walked around in, but there’s this thing called humidity, very foreign to a Californian like me (tbh, didn’t ever really think of myself as Californian, but the humidity was a deterrence to many opportunities to exploring the city). You literally cannot walk for more than 5 minutes without breaking a sweat. How there are people walking around in suits and heels, I shall never know.

Honestly, though? I absolutely fell in love with New York City. It had become a bit of a fond childhood memory for me, for the times I would drive down with my family to stand in line in front of the Coca-Cola advertisement for a Broadway ticket. To come back now and explore at my will and actually want to learn more about the city and its history…is an opportunity that I am incredibly thankful for. Of course, not to mention I paid 10 dollars to watch Hamilton from the front row. Now, that’s a kicker.

Return to Google

Many of my friends know that this is my second summer interning at Google. Last summer, I was an Engineering Practicum intern based in the Mountain View office. As a 19-year-old who had just decided on a major, that summer was, needless to say, overwhelming. I left in September, with the image of tech companies being too daunting and complex to navigate. I left feeling shaky and incredibly insecure about my seemingly rash decision to join the CS pipeline and go into tech. Exactly a year later, I walked out of the Google NYC office, feeling so sad and so appreciative of everything that I had learned, and knowing that one day I want to come back.

Software Engineering Woes

My transition into college definitely took an unexpected turn. I came in, thinking I wanted to become a doctor, having excelled in math and chemistry. In sophomore year, I was unsure if I was considering CS for the sake of doing CS like everyone else, and in order to be the odd one out, I decided to major in Symbolic Systems. As I took more psychology, linguistics, and philosophy courses over the years, I’ve come to really embrace the humanities and love them. As for the technical side, well…numbers became to scare me. I had lost that fire of wanting to work through problems endlessly. And as last summer came to the end, I was eager to make a transition into product management, anything other than coding. To cut a long story short, many conversations with my wonderful recruiter about my future steps led to this open email I sent her:

I think I realized a lot of things when I was talking to you today. The inherent question was never really which place to go work at; it was PM or SWE. I like to go about things logically, and so I thought “I did SWE last year, and I need a diversity of experience. So I should do PM.” That’s what I said to you today. PM was always so intriguing to me, and the idea of PM for a summer felt like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I also thought on the flip side, I wasn’t choosing Google for the right reasons, the reasons ranging from the repercussions to the familiarity when I’m someone who advocates for pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. When I signed Google a month ago, I don’t think I had really been convinced; I think it was mainly out of fear and a feeble statement of “I should go and give it another chance since it wasn’t the best last summer.” But what you hinted at today actually gave me clarity on what my true fear was: that my technical foundation isn’t strong. The truth is, I think design questions are so exciting and the idea of owning a product is so grandiose and almost dreamy for an internship. Yet I have definitely been insecure about my technical abilities, and it hasn’t been easy admitting that. I usually would attribute it to how I’m just not nearly as interested in it as product management, but that really is a cop-out reason. Because I know that…as a PM, you have to love your engineers and you have to still have the vigor and enthusiasm for tech problems like an engineer. Today, I think I’m better able to realize why I should and am going to Google next summer: it’s to challenge my insecurities and fears, to get outside of my comfort zone of having the flexibility of shying away from software engineering whenever possible.

As this summer came closer, I was really anticipating whether I would disappoint as much as I felt that I had before. Would I be properly prepared for these twelve weeks? What if I didn’t really know as much as I believed myself to?

The thing is, with CS…it’s so unpredictable how long it will take to solve the problems. You try your best, but for all you know, one bug could take an hour or it could take a week. Sometimes, that bug ends up being a one-line fix. Not exactly the most satisfaction one can find. With CS, you have to be patient. Because ultimately, the beauty of computer science is that computer science was completely man-made. That means no matter how flawed it can be, there is always a solution. We can bend CS to our will and we can utilize it to create fantastic and useful products. With CS, you can basically be a wizard.

I’ve regained my confidence in my abilities to be an engineer. I know that if I set my mind on doing solving a problem, I will be able to solve it. Software engineering is a path that I can definitely see myself taking, and that puts my heart at ease.

Don’t underestimate the team.

Freshmen year, my friends dubbed me the social butterfly. I loved meeting new people and hearing their life journeys. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by wonderful people who uplift me and motivate me to be the most compassionate and loving person that I can be. Navigating the workplace was a new challenge. I would rarely speak up last year, and due to my wariness of my technical abilities, I was hesitant to ask questions. I really had no commonalities to share with my team and they were a quiet bunch, too.

During that summer, I would go to these organized chats with women employees at Google. Each time, they would emphasize that their top priority when choosing a place to work is the team. I honestly couldn’t understand why the team was more important than the work or the product. And of course comes this summer. I found myself surrounded by a different lot than my previous internship. Young, many married with babies, mostly men, mostly white. You would think I would feel even more alienated, but I was much more comfortable being around them. I loved listening to the jokes about gaming and parenting being tossed around, and I was always greeted with friendly smiles at the office. My team definitely knew how to work really hard and have a good time. I bothered the heck out of my host with questions, but he never complained; he would always jump at the opportunity to help me out, and forever I will be thankful! I hope that later on, I can foster that community wherever I go.

But I still care about the product.

UGH, the product I worked on this summer was so fantastic and enjoyable to tinker with. I so wish I could talk more about it, but alas, as it is unreleased currently, I must restrain myself. But it’s a bit of a tickle and a giggle, to know that I have an itching secret. This experience was much more visual and interactive than others I have worked on, and that was pretty exhilarating in and of itself. To be able to make the slightest change in code, and to see it happen and change in front of you. Sighs, it totally reaffirms my want to be involved in a product’s decision-making and usability.

Moving forward, the question still remains: software engineering? Product management? User experience? I see all three of these options to still be very viable. I need to do much more exploration. Whenever I think it’s too late for me to explore a new avenue, I need to remind myself that realistically I will only regret not trying and it’s never too late.

~

This is the majority of what I have to say for now. Summer 2016  will always be near and dear to my heart. It was everything I could have asked for, even more than everything.

Philanthropy in Motion (PIM) Model Foundation 2016: Presentation of $10,000 Checks

This is the impromptu speech I delivered during the presentation of $10,000 checks to both Education in Sight and XiXi Garden.

“First off, we want to thank you, Andrew, for being a great source of information throughout this entire process. Your dedication to EIS not only shows in how much EIS has grown since 2012, but also in your willingness to make time to speak with us, even when it was very inconvenient for you. (to group) I wanted to share that Andrew was actually going through airport security when the due diligence team called him to learn more about EIS, and that he was embarking on one of the first trips through which Chinese students have the opportunity to serve abroad. (to Andrew, co-founder of Education in Sight) We also really appreciate your taking the time to get up at 4 am to answer more of our questions after we voted for EIS to be one of the four finalist organizations. You were really charismatic and engaging, even at 4 am in the morning!

Overall, we have been very inspired to learn about the connection between vision and education, and by your well-researched and proven plan for EIS’s expansion. You provided substantial and convincing answers to each of our questions, which goes to show all the thought you and other EIS leaders have put into every detail of your operations. We’re also excited to see how many solid partnerships you have, and how many more you will have in the coming years.

We were also very impressed by the fact that you collected a lot of information about the current Program Manager’s experiences this past year, and used that information to create a thorough, month-by-month plan for the Program Manager’s responsibilities moving forward. We’re excited to be a small part of helping EIS implement a plan to achieve a more comprehensive and sustainable impact, which is the kind of impact our Model Foundation’s vision states that we seek to support.

When we asked you what would happen if we weren’t able to fully fund the ~$13,000 Program Manager salary (because we had a lot of other organizations that were also interested in our funding), your answer was really memorable. You mentioned that it could be an option to just hire a Program Manager for just 6 months, but that it was not ideal. You then mentioned that if there were really no other sources of funding, because no other foundations are generally willing to fund an organization’s capacity building costs, that you would be willing to pay out for it of your own pocket. Your response really demonstrated 1) how urgently EIS needed the Program Manager to move forward in its expansion, 2) the confidence you had in the well-researched business model of your social enterprise, and 3) your eagerness to reach the goals you’ve set for EIS in one year, two years, and five years.

We really wanted to fund the Program Manager salary in full, to help him/her achieve the relationship building that is essential for the continuation of EIS’s time-sensitive work, and the continuation of the partnerships between EIS and other organizations / government bureaus. But I wanted to say that we also really wanted to support the work of XiXi Garden, which is the first organization to provide comprehensive sex education for children in China. (to Hua XueMei, founder of XiXi Garden) As a student from the US, I relied on my peers to help me understand the complete dearth of sex education in China, and the immense need for children to empower and protect themselves with this knowledge that I’ve always taken for granted. As a Model Foundation, we wanted to recognize the social pushback that XiXi must combat as it reaches out to schools and other stakeholders, and we recognize that the community activities and PR that XiXi requested funding for are urgently needed — not only for educating children and their families, but also for beginning to fundamentally change the larger social attitude around sex education. We are so excited to see the future of XiXi’s endeavors and how a change in attitude would lay the foundations for other organizations to either partner with you, or even implement their own ideas for providing children with comprehensive sex education.

(to all) At the end, the allocation proposal that we agreed upon reflects our sincere belief that we have allocated the funds in a way that maximizes the impact of both organizations, and our confidence and excitement in the endeavors of both organizations. After the long intense and exhausting deliberation, I felt a lot of ownership and responsibility over the money Philanthropy in Motion had fundraised — the $20,000 we collectively had the opportunity to allocate. This is definitely the first time I’ve ever felt so much social responsibility for a sum of money before, and moving forward, I want to apply the same attitude towards all the resources and privileges I have, and always use them in well-informed in meaningful ways.”

emotional labor

to summarize a FANTASTIC article I recently read:

Ages ago, I read this fantastic piece about practical things men can do to support feminism. Almost every item on the list really resonated with my experience, and this was one of the most resonant:

2. Do 50% (or more) of emotional support work in your intimate relationships and friendships.

Recognize that women are disproportionately responsible for emotional labour and that being responsible for this takes away time and energy from things they find fulfilling.

We are told frequently that women are more intuitive, more empathetic, more innately willing and able to offer succor and advice. How convenient that this cultural construct gives men an excuse to be emotionally lazy. How convenient that it casts feelings-based work as “an internal need, an aspiration, supposedly coming from the depths of our female character.”

This, in turn, spawned this great Metafilter thread in which people discuss their experiences with emotional labor. And, that, finally, led to this Ask Metafilter thread, which addresses the very question I initially meant to address: what is emotional labor and how do you know if you’re doing your fair share of it?

# Partnered Life

  • Am I checking in with my partner to see if they had a rough day?
    • If so, am I stepping up to make their life easier in other ways (cooking, cleaning, etc.)?
  • Am I open and clear about my wants, and not forcing my partner to guess/drag it out of me?
  • Am I contributing constructively to planning of meals, events, trips, etc?
  • Am I actively trying to make my presence feel safe for my partner?
  • Do I try to do nice things for my partner without being asked?
  • Do I take care of my own administrative life (paperwork, bills) without needing to be repeatedly reminded?
  • Am I supportive of my partner’s decisions, big and small?
  • Am I respectful and validating of my partner’s emotions?
  • Am I vocally grateful when my partner goes out of their way to do something nice for me?
  • Am I nice to my partner’s family [if that’s a thing they want]?

# Friend Groups

  • Do I work to coordinate peoples’ schedules so that we can have a nice picnic/party/board game night/etc.?
  • When planning an event, am I conscious of possible interpersonal conflicts?
  • When planning an event, do I take into account different peoples’ preferences for food, beverages, music, etc., so that no one feels excluded?
  • Do I actually have everything prepared in advance for an event I’m hosting, or at least clearly and fairly delegated?
  • If there is an imbalance of emotional or physical labor occurring, am I willing to risk social awkwardness to improve the lot of those negatively affected?

# Third Party Relationships (Familial & Otherwise)

  • Do I remember to make phone calls and visits to people I care about and want to have relationships with?
  • Do I remember to send cards to people I care about?
  • Do I send thank you notes to people to acknowledge their emotional labor for me?
  • Am I actively sensitive to and supportive of people who are experiencing a difficult time (death of spouse/child/pet, etc.)?

# Other

  • Do I pause to observe the context (my partner’s body language or current activity, what’s been happening today, etc.) before I involve my partner in something me-focused? (Whether that’s a request or a touch or whatever.)
  • Am I taking responsibility for my own reminders by putting things in a calendar app or whatever reminds me to do things?
  • Am I aware of all the unseen work involved in things like meal preparation, and am I educating myself so that I can share the work?
  • Am I difficult as hell to work with and expect everyone to work around it because I present as male?

Women are expected to do a lot of these sorts of things in relationships and friendships, and men are not. It may well be that men are on average objectively worse at them than women are, but that’s only because they’ve never been held responsible for these things and therefore haven’t developed the skill. Most men have gone their whole lives hearing that women are “naturally” suited for these things and men are “naturally” not, so why bother working on it? Gender essentialism doesn’t exactly foster a growth mindset, and many people don’t realize that things like communication skills and empathy can actually be improved to begin with.

After reading these articles and threads, I started to understand my frustrations with my male friends, roommates, and partners much better, because these imbalances have touched every single relationship I’ve ever had with a man. Male partners have consistently ignored glaring issues in the relationship so that I had to be the one to start the difficult conversation every single time, even though they supposedly had as much of a stake in the relationship as I did. Male roommates have made me beg and plead and send reminder texts to do even the most basic household management tasks. Male friends have tried to use me as a therapist, or drawn me into worrying about their physical health with them while refusing to see a doctor even though they had insurance.

YES.

This article perfectly captures why I find 90% of guys my age (and honestly guys in general) so immature and why interactions with them can be so laborious. This article also makes me really appreciate males who do acknowledge and initiate emotional labor, although that appreciation can also reflect differences in expectations regarding the division of emotional labor men and women are expected to have.

To add my personal reflections to this important topic:

The expectations surrounding emotional labor start in the home. 

Emotional labor is the burden I carry when my brother emotionally abuses everyone in my family, then dramatically slams his bedroom door, gleeful that he won some argument and can continue playing his stupid video games, while all he really accomplished was carelessly creating emotional wreckage and tension for everyone else to deal with. Meanwhile, I’m just coming home from some class or rehearsal, and I feel the immediate need to console my mother, struggle to explain my brother’s petty perspective, and act as the cultural and emotional bridge between my brother and the rest of my family.

Emotional labor is imposing, upon my 6th grade self, the responsibility to drop my work and take care of my sister and clean the house as soon as my parents step out for a church event or meeting, while I walk by my brother who is too damn busy playing computer games all night to even pick up the home phone when someone calls in the middle of my helping my sister take a bath. I’m not complaining that I have to take responsibility for my sister. After all, I am the older sister, but I know that my brother, regardless of his age or ability, would never even think to take on any sort of familial responsibility for himself. Nor would anyone think to ask him to do so, if I’m around. But care-taking takes practice. Feeding a fussy 2 year-old, cleaning up after she “baby burps” (aka throws up all over you before you’re about to go out to meet friends, making sure a baby doesn’t fall down the stairs, and spending an hour a day holding and desperately trying to sooth a 25-pound child to sleep are not innate to me because I am a female. These tasks simply take hours of practice and a sense of duty to one’s family. Both of which all males can, and should, develop.

Emotional labor is overhearing my mother beg her sister-in-law to not get a divorce because she “needs” to maintain the safest possible environment for her two children to grow up in, even though my uncle is the perhaps the most misogynistic, selfish, arrogant, and calculating person I’ve ever met. It breaks my heart to admit that my mother is correct, that for the good of my aunt’s children, she should try to “make the marriage work and forgive him.” But my mother is only correct, and her advice is only “practical” and perhaps worth following, because our society strips so much power from women that they have to remain physically and emotionally dependent on their husbands, as disgusting as it feels for me to call a man a husband if he is so irresponsible and dismissive of his own wife.

The expectations surrounding emotional labor start in the home,
and are perpetuated by others we interact with. 

Emotional labor is when a male classmate asks his girl friends to figure out cute ways to hang out with his love interests, or dating anniversary plans for his girlfriend. Although we often find it fun to giggle about the cute plans we make for you to have a fun night with your love interest / girlfriend, stop leaving it all up to us. Go figure out whether she wants to be asked out in public or in private, what flowers she likes, and what restaurant she’d be excited to eat at.

Emotional labor is when my friend group wants to go out, and the guys claim that they “would be happy doing anything” but complain as soon as we do something I didn’t know they wouldn’t be interested in. Because they didn’t bother to be involved in planning the outing in the first place…

Emotional labor is the responsibility I’ve learned to just impose upon myself in keeping up relationships with guys. It’s absolutely tiring, and as much as I care about my guy friends and would hate to fall out of their lives, they really should start investing at least half the effort I put into setting up Skype calls, sending birthday wishes, etc.

Emotional labor is when boys think it’s cool to act mysterious about their emotions, forcing me to put in the effort to coax their struggles out of them. Sure, I understand that I’m very fortunate to have the social capital / the friends who have encouraged me to reflect upon and articulate my reactions to my experiences, but the mentality that it’s cool to be aloof and to be difficult to maintain a friendship with… that mentality has got to go.

The expectations surrounding emotional labor start in the home,
are perpetuated by others we interact with,
and will influence every area of women’s personal and professional lives.

Emotional labor is trying to be a proactive and effective leader in a group and being eager to advocate for making certain decisions, only to (again) be disappointedly tasked with administrative tasks and maintaining / restoring relationships among the group or with key players outside of the group.

Emotional labor is being seen as bossy, aggressive, or emotional,
whereas my male counterparts as seen as effective, passionate, and charismatic.

Emotional labor is when my mom advised me, from a young age, not to aspire to become a doctor or a lawyer, because I will one day have to “give it all up” to care for my children. There’s a Chinese saying that roughly translates to: “Men’s greatest fear is to enter the wrong career; women’s greater fear is to marry the wrong man.” My parents immigrated to the US because of a job opportunity my dad had through HP, and all of my parents’ friends’ families are composed of a husband who works in tech and a wife who gave up her career as soon as she had children. So back to my mom’s advice — because the professional road towards being a doctor or lawyer is long, and because as a woman, my greatest failure would be to not find the right husband, I should be more concerned about putting myself in situations in which I can meet the right guy in my 20’s than to pursue a career I’d toil so hard after and have to give up as soon as I have children (it seems like having children at the “right age” in the “right stage of my life” is a more sure guarantee of happiness and a sign of excellent planning and foresight than immersing myself in a meaningful career).

But I don’t blame my mom for her seemingly misogynistic advice.

My mom gave up everything to take care of my siblings and me, and would only give me this advice if she’s confident that it will bring me (and my future family) the greatest happiness. (Isn’t interesting to think about how a woman’s identity and success is tied to the well-being of her future family, while a man’s identity and success are not?)

My mom believes so much in the division of emotional labor our society preaches that refusing to care for my future family almost seems like a slap in the face to her and her sacrifices.

Will I follow her advice, stop fighting a seemingly unbreakable system and its expectations, and perhaps perpetuate these perspectives about emotional labor along the way? What can I do to honor my mother’s sacrifices while being entirely cognizant of my actions and the perspectives they may perpetuate?

Making women disproportionately responsible for emotional labor, and normalizing the imbalance of emotional labor with men and women of all ages, disempowers women and restrains us from devoting our invaluable energies to pursuing what we ought to be free to do. It’s high time those who want to call themselves responsible and mature men take a look at their thoughts and actions, and take on the emotional labor that the women in their lives have always done for them.

 

 

 

Woman in Tech

  1. How has your Google internship informed your experience as a woman in tech?

A week into my Google internship, I came to a realization: in our team of 30-40 people, there are only four women. Only two of those women (including me) are technical. This realization also came with perplexity. Why is it just that the observation feels drastic and my experience doesn’t reflect that? I’ve found that my co-workers always treat me with respect and I felt immediately welcomed. There is a tremendous support network in Google for women in tech, as I quickly noticed by attending GWE and by talking to my mentor about statistics around gender disparity. I’ve been incredibly humbled and grateful to be surrounded by a supportive community, but I’ve learned that the issue really doesn’t lie in outright sexist behavior or mistreatment (while that is definitely an issue elsewhere); the issue is the lack of opportunities presented to women in tech, the lack of resources and exposure for women to reach the goals that they would like. I am aware that I have received a lot of love and privilege through this Google internship and I would hope that other women in tech could have these same opportunities.

As a woman in tech, Google has readily equipped me with the tools to better myself as an engineer and as an individual working in industry by gaining self-confidence. I’ve also learned that these endeavors do not stop with me. When an issue such as closing the gender gap is so complex where it touches areas from education equity to portrayals on media, I think it is important for any of us with more opportunities to help those around us (and even those from other communities) and to expose tech to them. I think tech has so many far-reaching applications that it can positively impact, and I want to give those tools to as many people as possible.

 

  1. What do you hope to gain by attending GHC? How do you plan to share your GHC experience with your community (including your school community) after the conference?

Aside from the summer internships, I am always surrounded by people my age who are going through similar struggles of finding their passion and preparing themselves to navigate the real world. I see GHC as an opportunity to not only find a community of women in tech that encourages and uplifts one another, but also as an opportunity to hear testimonials from women in tech who are older and much wiser than I am. There is so much to learn from people who have been walking this world longer than I have, and I think mentorship is so valuable in providing a diversity of perspective that will better inform the decisions that I choose to make later on. I hope to build relationships with both peers and mentors during my time at GHC and bring back the lessons and stories that I learn to all of my communities, whether it be the community where tech is underappreciated or the community that advocates for women in tech but has lost sight of why it is important to have a support system for women in tech. I’ve become an avid blogger the past few years, and I see storytelling as one of the most powerful forms of conveyance and cathartic forms of communicating. I hope that in my last year in college, I will be able to bring in testimonials and even people that I may have encountered at GHC to tell their story in a less structured manner. Honestly, I feel strange trying to turn this into a concrete actionable item, but at the very least I can guarantee that the bonds and relationships I form at this conference will be beneficial to me and those around me to learn more about the glass ceiling, the challenges, and the good with being women in tech.

Stepping Into Those BIG Shoes

As senior year is slowly yet quickly approaching, I had to think a lot about how I wanted to spend senior year, in particular my involvement in the API community. I had to start thinking about this back in spring quarter when elections were being held. While I want to be involved in the API community, I know I am not always the most aware of my limits to balance everything that I care about, whether it be API-related, tech, violin, or friends. A close friend urged me to do as little as possible, but that also didn’t feel right. As a senior, I feel the need to step into the big shoes in some manner. The choice I decided to make was to become the Asian American New Student Orientation Committee (AANSOC) Coordinator. I think there are a number of reasons why this in particular has caused me to believe I made the right choice. First off, it is a commitment during the summer and at the beginning of the school year, meaning it won’t be in conflict with other things I care about. Secondly, the freshmen year experience is a very fond memory for me. I think a lot about my freshmen year as I am planning for this, and I know for a fact that my freshmen year was purely shaped by the people I first made contact with in the beginning of the year. I love the excitement that freshmen bring to Stanford, and it reminds me of all that I have to be so grateful for and to make the most of what I can at this school. Through this role, I just hope that I am able to show the freshmen what an impact this community has had on me, and I hope that I am able to be approached throughout the year as one of the first faces they get to see 🙂 So here below is my letter that was sent to the frosh halfway through the summer. AKA my abridged testimony of the API community. Enjoy.

Dear Member of the Amazing Class of 2020,

Welcome to Stanford! My name is Da Eun Kim ’17, and I am the 2016 Community Coordinator for the Asian American New Student Orientation Committee (AANSOC). First off, I am ecstatic to welcome you to the Asian American community here at Stanford! The Asian American community has been the backbone to my life here at Stanford, and I want to share a bit of my experience with this community I now call my family.

To be honest, I did not think I would have so much involvement in the Asian American community during my time at Stanford. Coming from a school with a predominantly East Asian population, I had thought I knew everything there was to know about being “Asian American.” However, right from the start, I decided to join the Asian American Sibling (AASIB) Program, where incoming freshmen (“lils”) get paired with a group of upperclassmen (“bigs”) who became my first mentors and friends at Stanford. These upperclassmen were also incredibly involved members of the Asian American community, and through their influence, I found myself diving further into this community for the past three years. Not only have I been welcomed with open arms and developed a sense of belonging and self-confidence, but I have also learned a great deal about the Asian American community at Stanford and beyond.

Back in high school, the model minority was a concept that friends and family took pride in. Here, I’ve realized that the model minority myth can harm many South-east Asian communities such as those who may identify as Vietnamese, Hmong, and Cambodian, where families have come to America as refugees fleeing from Civil War in their home countries with no education. Even East Asian families in SF Chinatown where families live in one-room apartments for decades are hurt by this perpetuating stereotype. In addition, I’ve also grown to better address the concerns of misrepresentation of Asian Americans in media and to fight for better representation. And while there is urgency in better vocalizing the unique Asian American experience and bettering the future, Stanford is a place where I can learn more about and celebrate my heritage and history, as it informs our values in family and culture. Whether it is viewing the diversity of the Asian American community through cultural performances and special guests, sitting down and talking about issues that do affect all Asian Americans, or learning about the history of being Asian in America, this community has become a home, encouraging me to continue to explore my identity and to embrace it. And I hope that during your time at Stanford, you will be able to find your family in the Asian American community!

I would now like to invite you to join us at all of our AANSOC events during your New Student Orientation and at the beginning of Fall quarter! The events we put on, including the Community and We Are Family event, showcase the various aspects of the Stanford Asian American community. A calendar of these events and their respective descriptions are included in this packet. AANSOC events are free and open to all students, so please join us! At the We Are Family event, the AASIB program will also be doing their big SibFam reveal! I really believe that through the AASIB program, you will be able to find upperclassmen who share similar interests, both academic and non-academic. I have seen SibFams be one of the biggest positive influences for freshmen in introducing them to communities that they themselves later become leaders in. My bigs graduated last year, but I am still lucky to be able to keep in touch with them and seek their advice from anything Stanford-related to post-Stanford-related.

If you would like to learn more about the Asian American community before arriving, please explore our A3C website (a3c.stanford.edu) and our Facebook page (facebook.com/StanfordA3C).  On our website, you can learn about programs hosted by the A3C and the various student groups of the Asian American community.  You can also check out our Facebook page for event postings during the school year.

I cannot wait to meet you! Please say hi if you see me around, and you are more than welcome to shoot me any thoughts and questions. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and welcome to the family!

 

Sincerely,

Da Eun Kim

B.S. Candidate in Symbolic Systems | Class of 2017

M.S. Candidate in Computer Science | Class of 2018

Asian American New Student Orientation Committee (AANSOC) Chair

The Necessity of the Humanities for Americans’ Collective Flourishing

 

“Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses and de-emphasize the humanities.[1]” The balance between promoting a narrow STEM education versus a well-rounded liberal arts education is an subject of contestation involving Americans of all educational, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds. On one side, language of measurement and progress champions STEM disciplines: college rankings vie for Americans’ attention by rating institutions of higher education on quantifiable measures such as student loan debt, earnings after graduation, and other metrics of income security that are best achieved with an undergraduate STEM degree. Policies direct support to technical training, which equals survival in a society defined by technology and shaped by global competition. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, at least 15 states offer some type of premium for certain high-demand STEM degrees. States, frustrated by soaring tuition costs, crushing student loan debt, and a lack of skilled workers in science and technology, have begun rewarding colleges for “churning out students educated in fields seen as important to the economy.[2]” Given the belief that one’s education and training should align with the needs of the job market, policy-makers along the political spectrum have portrayed the humanities and liberal arts education as irrelevant and expendable luxuries.

However, every exaltation of STEM that ignores the value of the humanities is met with arguments warning Americans of their narrow obsession with STEM education. Supporters of a broader liberal arts education point out that the very “progress” that STEM supporters pursue reveals the importance of the humanities. The humanities foster creativity and empathy, which are necessities for individuals’ competitiveness in a capitalistic society, and for their capacity to contribute to society as a whole. Those who value the liberal arts argue that a combination of skills drawn from both the humanities and STEM is necessary in designing and delivering holistic solutions for complex world issues.

Interestingly, supporters of a narrow STEM education and supporters of a liberal arts education both reference the value of education in light of its usefulness for an individual’s contribution in a capitalistic society. A well-rounded education undeniably develops individuals’ intellectual capabilities and empowers them with job opportunities and social mobility, but neither side references America’s original intent in founding institutions of education: to require Americans to frequently recur to foundational principles so that they can best guard the unalienable rights of everyone in a democratic society. When Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott rhetorically asks, “is it really a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?[3]” he overlooks the foundational purpose of American education: to help Americans thrive as interdependent members of society.

Scott’s overlooking, which reflects that of many Americans, can be attributed to the disintegration of civic education during the post-Civil War evolution of American political thought. A crucial ideological shift occurred at the end of the Civil War, from which the Union emerged as the cruel victor over the South and proved that ultimately, mass, force, and accident trumped human excellence, character, and persuasion in determining success. The Civil War fundamentally changed America’s character through a newfound faith in and ambition to understand massive forces; before 1865, American institutions depended ideologically upon using reason and choice to combat accident and force, but the Civil War proved that no progress of the human mind could contribute a sufficient command over cruel circumstances, such as those evident in the war. Shifts in American political thought — shifts that subjected Americans to the accident and force that Americans once strived to be free from — influenced Americans’ conception of human rights, obsession with math and science, pastlessness, and fear of reflection.

Before the Civil War, political thinkers observed that nature revealed truths about Americans’ interdependence, but after 1865, thinkers observed truths about nature that undermined Americans’ interdependence. Marx observed that nature was characterized by a ceaseless struggle between unalterable forces of violence and disorder, and that the antagonism between and among classes was dictated by cold calculation and massive, impersonal forces that individuals could neither understand nor control. Americans realized that their rational choice was powerless over physical and historical forces that determined their destiny, but that they could choose to leverage math and science to progress along the trajectory of existing forces.

Through the mathematical and scientific study of natural forces, social darwinism changed the terms on which Americans derived individual rights and thus the terms on which Americans related to other Americans. Darwin, like Marx, concluded that because all of nature engaged in a lifelong struggle for survival, nature preached that it is natural, or right by nature, for everyone to be concerned primarily with their self-preservation. Survival was deemed the highest moral pursuit, and thus, every individual derived his or her rights from his or her fundamental right to survival. This newly defined moral pursuit made Americans vulnerable to the lure of sudden wealth, because self-interested economic gain was now amoral and within the boundaries of one’s individual rights. As the nation’s new ideologies betrayed its foundational democratic ideals, the greed, disunity, and private ambition that the Antifederalists prophesied became lasting concerns.

Additionally, social darwinism’s mantra of “survival of the fittest” applied its observations of evolution in nature to evolution in American society as well, convincing Americans that even though they could not change nature’s forces, these forces were propelling society into a future that was undeniably better than the past. The language of and pressure to progress inherently abandoned a faith in the past and silenced the need for reflection. The intellectual progress that capacitated these shifts in American political thinking were self-perpetuating; if Americans believed that they were continually deepening their knowledge of nature through math and science, then the farther they moved away from foundational democratic ideals, the closer they believed they were to “real” natural truths.

Gilman’s theory that great progress could only be achieved by competition, quantification and optimization encouraged a veneration of machines and mechanics that altered the conception of valuable work. Before the Civil War, work consisted of the intellectual activity instrumental to the progress of individuals and of society. After 1865, valuable work consisted of a labor force undergoing technical training to operate machines and optimize processes to secure America’s competitiveness in a global society subject to economic forces beyond its control.

Furthermore, the national moral malaise following the Civil War further deterred Americans from reflecting upon and seeing value in the past. Americans sought normalcy after the traumatic moral contestation of the Civil War, and thus, any belief that permitted them to avoid considering America’s intellectual positioning became very desirable. Social darwinism taught that government did not operate under an obligation to supervise its constituents, and thus Americans apathetically submitted to an impersonal government that threatened democracy This apathetic submission was a direct threat to the democracy that the Antifederalists advocated for, in which the debate over ideologies stemmed from a faith in public persuasion. Again, this pastlessness was self-perpetuating; the stronger the sentiment of pastlessness, the stronger the striving for progress, which was believed to expedite Americans’ movement away from the moral mess of the Civil War.

Because democracy was no longer a matter of individual choice but was dependent on external, unalterable forces, there was no purpose to promoting disciplines that educated individuals to become better citizens. Shifts in American political thinking, which influenced and were influenced by the worship of measurement and calculation, immediate capitalistic gain for survival, and “progress,” prompted an intellectual change in educational priorities that venerated certain disciplines and pedagogies and devalued others.

The emphasis on survival in an economy of rising mechanical industries stressed the purpose of learning specific skills that directly translated to maximum capitalistic gain for the individual and for society. STEM education and technical training were promoted because advancements in math and science advanced society’s understanding of the forces they were subject to. In addition, Americans applied their obsessive adherence to objective measures to evaluating the productivity of education. Instead of encouraging individuals to ask questions and develop as the independent thinkers that Thoreau believed could combat unjust governance and that Tocqueville believed could combat the tyranny of the majority, new pedagogy centered around superficial metrics of learning outcomes that prioritized measurable growth, which was more easily evaluated in STEM fields. The focus on quantification plagued test-driven, anemic educational practices for all fields, forcing fascinating epiphanies of human life to become bland classroom exercises in information accumulation and regurgitation.

The promotion of STEM content and pedagogy conducive for STEM content, coupled with sentiments of pastlessness and the assumed value of “progress,” further devalued the “irrelevant” humanities education. Language of pastlessness and progress promoted a disdain of the past and discouraged reflection; under social darwinism, there was no need to reflect upon forces that one could not control, especially because there was nothing positive to glean from the past and because forces progressed regardless of one’s reflection or action. Thus, not only were the humanities less useful than STEM in preparing individuals for a capitalistic society, but they were also unable to help Americans improve themselves and improve society through reason and choice. In addition, because nature now provided a simple answer for how Americans should relate to each other, tools that powerful for explaining social forces and for understanding Americans’ relationships with each other became obsolete.

Americans in a post Civil War era were immersed in a political thinking dictated by measurement and progress instead of the continued self-scrutiny that America was founded upon. Consequently, Americans lost an awareness of three previously recognized democratic truths: that Americans’ interior lives are the source of liberation and flourishing, that Americans need to be recognized by other Americans, and that democratic freedom requires a governing body that protects Americans’ rights on a large scale. The decline in democratic ideals was perpetuated by the decline in disciplines that fostered an introspection necessary for its restoration. However, the neglected humanities still have the potential to restore an understanding and collective practice of true democracy, because they hone American’s understanding of themselves, of others, and of the relationships between themselves and others.

The humanities hone an individual’s ability to engage responsibly in a polity where everyone recognizes the importance of protecting everyone else’s rights. A healthy democracy relies on citizens who can resist apathetic deferral to majority authority, hold politicians accountable, and critique systems that discourage Americans from protecting democracy. By equipping individuals to critically gather information, understand their surroundings, and reason about their choices, the humanities train Americans to be thoughtful and involved citizens. The humanities also help Americans engage in their incorrigible search for the meaning of being an American. “Self-evident” truths — that Americans are equally dependent on the interior lives of others, that the satisfaction of each American’s inner life depends on living in free society with others, and that equality relies on interdependence — are only evident through reflection fostered by studying the humanities.

The humanities also combat the self-promoting attitudes of social darwinism by teaching that just as individuals can discover their own intrinsic worth and need to be recognized for their full rights as human beings, they can also recognize the same worth and needs of every other member of society. After individuals recognize the intrinsic value in others, the humanities also help individuals foster an empathy necessary for promoting democratic ideals that protect all members of a diverse polity. For example, reading across languages and cultures fosters an understanding of the vast range of perspectives in society, and participating in the arts fosters the capacity to imagine the challenges that others face. These skills are especially imperative to fostering a diversity that America has always championed ideologically but struggled to uphold in praxis.

Social darwinism preaches that one’s pursuit of capitalistic gain is sufficient for one’s own flourishing, and that one does not need to consider the flourishing of society as a whole. However, democratic ideals teach that the ability to live together with others requires the ability to see oneself linked with others whom one has never directly known. For example, the study of American history reveals the need for nations to institute policies that protect the rights of all members of society, whose happiness is instrumental to the happiness of all other members. As Americans realize the wealth of wisdom that the past holds, American’s study of humanities not only enlivens their understanding of interdependence, but also catalyzes a positive cycle of combating the pastlessness and alienation that social darwinism perpetuated.

In neglecting the purpose of education for fostering democracy, present day education debates reflect the language and values of a post Civil War era when a country, born around a conversation and contestation of minds, lost its ability to reflect upon the dangerous evolution away from its foundational ideologies. The social darwinism that arose after the Civil War starkly altered the inner life of Americans, who struggled and failed to maintain foundational democratic ideals. Social darwinism shaped the politics that succeeded the Civil War: whereas Winthropian ideals preached that the study of nature brought Americans closer to natural truth of their interdependence, the new “natural truth” that emerged after 1865 taught that all humans were alone in the self-interested, competitive struggle for life. Social darwinism also promoted pastlessness and “progress,” which caused Americans to discard the very intellectual pursuits that defined them as a self-scrutinizing polity and necessitated their intellectual progress as a nation. Shifts in American political thought also contributed to an undermining of the humanities that continues today. However, studying the humanities is instrumental to restoring democracy, because it cultivates Americans’ abilities to recognize others’ unalienable rights and to live in a way that honors those rights. Amidst today’s STEM versus liberal arts debate, it is critical to not only remember what the humanities contribute to a capitalistic society, but the potential of the humanities to help Americans flourish in a democratic society. As Americans strive to create a more adaptable and innovative workforce, the humanities are a source of national memory and civic vigor, cross-cultural empathy and communication, individual and collective fulfillment, and most importantly, the protectors of ideals that make Americans who they are.

 

[1] Zakaria, F. (2015, March 26). Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous. Retrieved May 5, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-stem-wont-make-us-successful/2015/03/26/5f4604f2-d2a5-11e4-ab77-9646eea6a4c7_story.html

[2] Cohen, P. (2016, February 21). A Rising Call to Promote STEM Education and Cut Liberal Arts Funding. Retrieved May 4, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/business/a-rising-call-to-promote-stem-education-and-cut-liberal-arts-funding.html?_r=0

[3] Jaschik, S. (2011, October 12). Florida GOP vs. Social Science. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/10/12/florida_governor_challenges_idea_of_non_stem_degrees