Tufts University professor and diversity leader Jean Yu-Wen Shen Wu was the featured Hong Kong Distinguished Lecturer in King Theatre. Dr. Wu, whose work focuses on both race in America and Asian American studies, shared her thoughts with Class I and II students on how the differences of our race define the overall quality of our lives.
Dr. Wu introduced the term “racial assignment,” which is how others often define a person they see walking down “Main Street.” It’s something that can’t be controlled; often times, it is not the assignment a person wants.
“You may not agree with it, but that assignment has a reality,” said Dr. Wu. “It’s very important and it has impact on how we’re perceived, how we’re responded to, and how we’re treated. It has everything to do with our daily life experience. To be black in America is very different from being white in America. To be Asian in America is very different from being Latino in America.”
Dr. Wu used humor and seriousness throughout her talk as she pointed out common stereotypes and historical missteps in the treatment of Asian Americans. She also stressed many people believe race doesn’t matter so much in today’s society, citing the fact we have a president with a multi-racial background. But according to Dr. Wu, this is a “race-blind view.”
[Watch Dr. Wu’s lecture]
“My research, and all of the research in the field of race studies, shows repeatedly that race matters just as much today, if not more, than in the past. There is not a single area in our lives, and I mean all of us, whatever our racial category – healthcare, housing, education, and job opportunities – that isn’t shaped by our racial categories.”
Dr. Wu, who was born in China and raised in Hong Kong under British colonial rule, highlighted her personal experiences, including arriving in the U.S. as a college student in 1967, and how the Civil Rights movement inspired her eventual work on racial issues.
Wu urged students to support Asian American and race studies in order to find “what we can do to get rid of racial discrepancies, to bring about racial and social justice.”
Dr. Wu, the program and education director for the Office of Diversity Education and Development and senior lecturer in the American Studies Program at Tufts, is also the co-editor of Asian American Studies Now.
The Hong Kong Distinguished Lecture Series, established in l998, brings a speaker to Milton Academy who raises issues that concern Asia, and helps students and faculty understand those issues as well as the cultures, art and history of Asian countries.