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News & Stories: 2007-08

FEN Symposium Spotlights Racial Identity February 28, 2008

Two speakers will address some provocative themes of multiculturalism at the 2nd-annual FEN Symposium on Race, held March 5-6, 2008 at Calvin College. The event is free and open to the public.

Michelle Loyd-Paige photoThe symposium, an effort of Calvin’s office of multicultural affairs, takes its name from From Every Nation (FEN), Calvin’s multicultural statement of mission. The broad themes of FEN, as it is familiarly called, also supply the themes of each year’s symposium.

“This year, we are really addressing the theme of multicultural citizenship,” said Michelle Loyd-Paige, Calvin’s dean of multicultural affairs. “It’s about how we think about who we are, how we engage with others and how we get beyond the stereotypes. We’re really excited that these two speakers will expand our understanding of diversity.”

First on the slate is Dr. John Palmer, an assistant professor of educational studies at Colgate University, who will speak on “Challenging the Myth of the Model Minority” at 3:30 p.m., March 5, 2008 in the Commons Lecture Hall. Palmer, a Korean American, will tackle the popularly held perception of Asians as uniformly industrious, well-educated and indifferent to issues of racism: the ‘model minority’ of the lecture title.

“The model minority myth seems like a compliment, but when you get underneath it, you see how damaging it is,” said Loyd-Paige. “Take, for instance, the stereotype that Asians are good at math and science. What if you’re not good at math and science? Does that somehow make you less Asian? It can cause people to not see the gifts and talents that individuals have.”

That evening, Palmer will continue to challenge misperceptions of Asian-Americans in his lecture “Karate Chops, Geishas, Nerds and the Asian Invasion: Reflections of a Corean-Adopted American” at 7 p.m., March 5 in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall.

“Palmer is Korean, but was raised in a predominately white area and had to find his way into what it means to be a Korean-American,” said Loyd-Paige, adding that his insights will have particular resonance with some Calvin students: “Many of our students self-identify as a member of one racial-ethnic group but were raised in another, usually white, environment, or they suddenly find themselves in a predominately white environment. How do you understand who you are? Are you just American or are you 'hyphenated' American, and if you’re 'hyphenated' American, what does that mean?”

Next up is Dr. Kristal Zook, who will tackle the theme “Black Enough?” at 3:30 p.m., Thursday, March 6, in the Commons Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. that evening in the same location, Zook will speak on “Sunflower Kids: Multiracial Identities and the Coming Age of the Non-White Majority.”

Zook, an author, journalist and professor of journalism at Hofstra University is of both African- and Anglo-American background; she will share from both her research and her experience, said Loyd-Paige:

“How do you negotiate mixed-racial identities? If you’re half black and half white, that’s a question you may ask of yourself. And even if it’s not a question you ask of yourself, it’s a question others ask of you. The reality is in the U.S. of A, they’re going to look at your skin color and put you in a racial box. There is pressure on an individual to have to choose."

Zook, like Palmer, will appeal many in the Calvin community, but particularly to the student body, she added. “Many of our students either find themselves in similar situations or have friends or family members who are in similar situations. These speakers will also appeal to third-cultural students.”

Loyd-Paige is excited about the nuances both speakers will bring to the conversation on diversity and racism. “We intentionally try to diversify the speakers who come in appeal to a wide audience,” she said. “We want to keep the issues of FEN in front of people. We don’t just want FEN to be a document that we refer to.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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