“Oh my gosh, they are going to think you are a total weeb!” my roommate exclaimed after I told her I enrolled in an Asian American Studies class. During my first lecture, it became quickly evident that I was a different ethnicity than everyone else. It is incredibly important to educate ourselves on different cultures and backgrounds. However, when we choose to do so, we can stick out or be alone in our journey. Last year, when I took an Asian American Studies class, I was the only Black person in both my lecture. I am not going to lie; it was extremely awkward at first, but once I made it past this initial discomfort, I learned so much! I left the class with new perspectives, knowledge and insights. Now, I encourage everyone to step outside their comfort zone and take a minority studies class, whether it be for Asian American Studies, African American Studies, Chicano Studies, or any class that teaches material about minority groups that have been glossed over in K-12. With enrollment season right around the corner, think about adding a new class to your planner, but before you do, there are a couple things to be conscious of.
- It Is Going To Be Awkward At First
When I first walked into my Asian American Studies class, it felt like everyone stopped and stared at me. As I walked to my seat, I struggled to not put my head down from the embarrassment. The first week, I got many questions such as “Why are you taking this class?” or “So, is this class a major requirement for you or something?” Needless to say, people learned my name pretty quickly. While my classmates were skeptical at first, when I explained I had a genuine interest in learning about different backgrounds and histories, they opened up to me. My professor and teaching assistant were also very accepting and welcoming. Eventually, I no longer felt uncomfortable to ask questions and interact in discussion. My experience is not unique. When you walk into your lecture the first day, you may feel weird, but that is normal! Remember that you are there to educate yourself, so keep your head high because your good intentions outweigh the initial awkwardness.
- This Is Not About You! Listen Before You Speak.
You will quickly notice that there are some people in discussions or lectures who try to make topics about them when it is not. Oppression of different races is not a competition. We are not playing the Oppression Olympics! For example, let’s pretend there is an ethnic studies class about race relations in 2020. If there was a discussion about the unjust attacks and discrimination against Asian immigrants and Asian Americans because of coronavirus, I am not going to bring up the Black Lives Matter protests or the fear of police brutality because those topics, while important, are an entirely different discussion. While all of our stories and experiences are valid, read the room before you speak up. Most of the time, rather than speaking, it is better to listen and learn how you can be a better ally. If someone invites you to talk about a certain topic unrelated or not, you can accept this invitation, but do not make it about you unless your situation applies.
- Sometimes, It Is Going To Be Uncomfortable To Learn
American history and most of world history is pretty messed up. You are going to learn about things that were never taught in K-12, and the majority of them include awful treatments, events and practices. It is okay to take a step back and meditate and reflect on what you just learned. You are not weak or insensitive for being gentle with yourself! It is completely okay to take breaks between your readings, lectures and homework.
- You Cannot Give Minimal Effort
The majority of these courses are not “easy A’s.” With the weight of the material, you will truly have to pay attention and analyze the effects of history, communities and other concepts. Take the lectures and all the materials seriously. If you do not, you not only will you receive a lower grade, but you are also cheating yourself of gaining new insights and perspectives on things you never learned or thought about.
- Your Professors And Teaching Assistants Understand The Course’s Difficulty
While the professors and TA’s are very knowledgeable and familiar with the course material, they still understand how emotional it can be. Reach out to them! Trust me, as someone with anxiety, I know it can be intimidating, but some of the best ways to make connections is to open up. I find that people let their guard down more when you show them your authentic heart. Also, sometimes it is easier to ask questions in a more intimate setting without the fear of being judged by classmates. Go to office hours and explain your emotions and what you are thinking; professors and TAs are great resources!
- Not Everything Will Be Difficult, I Promise
So far, I have made these classes look like complete doom and gloom, but that is not the case. While you will learn about systematic racism and oppression, you will also learn about some amazing people and what they have done for the world. It is mind blowing to see how much the world is impacted by different communities, figures and events. You’ll often think, “This is so cool! Why did no one teach me this before?” At the end of the quarter, you will walk away with so much more perspective, and you will be so grateful you stepped outside your comfort zone.
Since my Asian American Studies class, I have made it a goal to continue educating myself. This quarter, I am enrolled in an African American Studies class. While I no longer stick out like a sore thumb, I still experience the emotions of feeling shocked, sometimes uncomfortable, but also amazed. I’m learning things about my culture and history that I never knew. Just like my quarter in Asian American Studies, I will walk away feeling proud of the new knowledge, opinions and insights I gained, and I hope you have an experience that allows you to do the same. Happy enrollment season!