Building Community through Dialogue
July 6, 2022
By Dr. Jennifer Kuan
On Monday, November 29, 200 people gathered on Zoom for Keeping it Real: Affirming the Asian American Community by Building Bridges and Making Connections. The online event was organized by a faculty and staff “co-op”, Building Community Through Dialogue, with the goal of stimulating thoughtful conversation about a topic of concern at CSUMB. But the Asian American experience was of much wider interest, as our campus community was joined by attendees from the surrounding region and across the country.
In her welcoming remarks, Provost Katherine Kantardjieff articulated the unique and valuable role of California State Universities in the ecosystem of higher education and research. CSUs are a place where scholars can pursue scientific inquiry outside of, and often decades ahead of, the mainstream. She reasserted CSUMB’s founding vision embracing interdisciplinarity and inclusion, which the event exemplified.
Philanthropist Laurel Lee-Alexander introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Russell Jeung, a Professor of Asian-American Studies at San Francisco State, who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2021 in recognition of his work co-organizing the Stop AAPI Hate project, which maintains a database of anti-Asian hate incidents. Dr. Jeung related his own ties to the Monterey Bay Area and the burning down of the fishing village that forced his ancestors to flee to San Francisco. He remarked on how attacks on Asian Americans, especially the elderly, were felt collectively by the Asian American community.
Prof. Jeung was then joined by Marina’s Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Biala and CSUMB faculty members, historian Phuong Nguyen and economists Angie Tran and Jennifer Kuan, who talked about bridges across cultures and across time. Kathy Biala discussed her efforts to publicly affirm the city’s Asian history as well as her work to install a bust of Martin Luther King in front of the public library. Prof. Nguyen recalled sharing his 1993 graduation from Monterey High School with Japanese Americans who had been denied their diplomas in 1943. Dr. Kuan discussed the ways in which discrimination in R&D settings affects multiple demographic groups and how addressing the problem has enormous upside. And Prof. Tran, who has studied economic migration in Southeast Asia, is training her lens closer to home to study local migrant workers and H-2A visa guest workers from Mexico and Central America in agriculture.
Professor Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, Chair of the Health, Human Services, and Public Policy Department, moderated the conversation and invited her fellow co-op leaders, Dr. Vivian Waldrup-Patterson, Interim Director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, and Associate Vice President Dr. Brian Corpening to close the event. The Building Bridges team have worked tirelessly over the years to create spaces for interdisciplinary dialogue on issues of diversity and inclusion. They sought to showcase CSUMB scholarship on important topics by bringing them into conversation with outside scholars, community members, and policymakers. And while this event was the first of its kind at CSUMB, the enthusiastic attendance makes it a useful blueprint for future events.