Kelsey Chase ‘24 (she/her) interviews Alice Garner ’24 (she/her)
Alice Garner reflects on identity, belonging, and getting vulnerable on social media.
Q: What’s your name, class year, and hometown?
A: My name’s Alice Garner, and I’m from Vermont. I’m in the Class of 2024, so I’m a first-year.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A: I’m an intended Africana studies major and Hispanic studies minor. My work here on campus centers on creating more spaces for marginalized students. I am an adopted Asian American student here, and I focus my extracurriculars on creating opportunities for more diverse and inclusive spaces, so I’m involved in SIAD, which is the Student Initiative for Academic Diversity. We focus on recruiting faculty tenure, and so I’m directly involved in the hiring process for that. I also serve on the Honor Council and I’m part of PASA (Pan-Asian Student Association), which is a specifically Asian student association. I’m a tour guide, I’m part of Club Swim, I’m part of The Sustainability Collective, and I also teach Spanish in elementary school. I’m enjoying my time here on campus. COVID doesn’t exactly make it easy, but it has pushed me to continue making genuine one-on-one friendships and relationships with people.
Q: How has your experience been as an Asian American at Davidson?
A: I live in Vermont, I’m adopted, and my parents are white as well, so that has definitely created a space where I’ve been used to being the minority. I’ve been used to being the one who is the only Asian of the friend group. This was my normal for my 18 years before I came here to Davidson and so that kind of socialization at home is definitely what I entered expecting in the fall. I wasn’t worried about coming to the South or coming to a school where it was really white because I didn’t think it would differ from my experience in Vermont. I didn’t face that many marginalizations when I was at high school, and I did not think heavily about my identity as an Asian American. There were even times when I kind of viewed myself as white because I was almost always the only Asian friend and because my parents are white; I’m not as in touch as I would like to be with my cultural side of being Chinese. First semester at Davidson was great, I made lots of friends— most were white — and I had a really good time. When I came back to Vermont in November, I was absolutely raving about Davidson to my friends at home.
Then, the second semester rolled around and I received three microaggressions within two weeks, and one of them was severe [and] from a friend. These microaggressions gave me a different perspective. I’ve definitely pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone and form an identity away from my parents. I’m forming my identity as an Asian American. Being adopted from China, I have always had this internal struggle where I never quite feel “white enough” for my white friends and not quite “Asian enough” for my Asian friends; Being here on campus with those microaggressions as an Asian American definitely felt very isolating at times. As much as I feel like I can talk with my white friends, they can never truly, fully empathize with me because they’ve never had that true lived experience of being oppressed. That was hard because a lot of my friends are white.
This semester I’ve definitely pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone and hang out with the Asian community. It’s frustrating for me that as a person of color I have had to fight to find a community here. For example, Davidson has made room for the Patterson Court community — all of which are white dominated spaces — whereas affinity groups such as PASA and OLAS do not have that same kind of space. I believe this speaks to the amount of funding and thereby the amount of support Davidson wants to give to marginalized groups on campus. With all of this, I want to fight for my Asian American community and continue to advocate for more spaces where the BIPOC community can feel safe.
With the Atlanta murders of Asian American women coupled with Davidson’s response, these past weeks have been some of the hardest weeks of my life. I have never felt so isolated and marginalized from a community I thought was my home. It frustrates me that I had to be the vulnerable one on social media. My goal for this post was not to gain sympathy or pity, but rather gain more empathy around my own experience as an adopted Asian American on campus and make students here more aware of the problems that are going on at Davidson. It is simply exhausting to be a person of color on campus and to constantly feel that I have to fight to make my voice heard. Although sometimes I feel like I’m just one small voice on campus, I think that with small steps, I hope that I can inspire others and be a leader for underclassmen through my work and advocacy for the marginalized community at Davidson.
Q: What made you want to speak out on social media?
A: I definitely was angered by how all these students, predominately white students, were fighting for Nummit [Summit Outpost] — claiming it as a space where they feel safe and welcomed on campus. It made me feel sad because as I said before, there’s no Asian American space where I feel “safe and welcomed” on campus. It sometimes feels like white students have every single other place on campus — eating houses, Commons, the library, the Union. Nummit is just another example of a space dominated by white presence. They didn’t realize that by rallying behind Nummit amidst this extremely difficult time for Asian Americans on campus, they were silencing the voices of people of color and further demonstrating their white privilege. I was just really angered by the commotion about Nummit and the pure ignorance and disrespect I felt from the community because then that means I didn’t feel supported. I knew that my voice on social media would be small amongst the crowd, but I also knew that it would make an impact.
I posted about what I’ve been going through, and my goal for the post was to inspire others and make other people of color feel heard: to make others feel like they weren’t alone. I both wanted to support the BIPOC community and create awareness in a predominantly white community. Shortly after I posted, people texted me saying, “I see you and I hear you.” I think it’s fine if you have an Asian friend and you want to reach out to them. But that was not my goal on that post. My goal was to create more awareness and inspire everyone to educate themselves. As a person of color, my job is to continually fight back against being oppressed in a society that does not favor me. However, that does not mean I have a pass for being racist. Even as a person of color who is marginalized, you can still have internalized racism and racial biases. I want to continue to undo that racism within myself and inspire the same for white people. White people are born into a society that favors them due to their white privilege, and it’s their job to educate themselves on how to become an anti-racist and that journey does not stop after attending one event [such as the PASA event which happened to follow the Atlanta shootings]. An anti-racist journey includes conscious decisions every day to actively undo racist tendencies, and I hope that by posting, I can gain more attention and awareness towards a subject that I feel very personally connected to. Moreover, I know that it takes a lot to be vulnerable on social media and I want to break that barrier of Instagram being a highlight reel of someone’s life. It does frustrate me that I have to depend on Instagram to be able to find a voice and inspire others because I don’t like social media. While I know it’s not my job as a person of color to educate others in a predominantly white institution, unfortunately, I do feel like it is my job sometimes.
Q: What can and should professors be doing to care for students of color at this time?
A: After the Atlanta shootings, I felt extremely isolated in that only one of my professors reached out to me and acknowledged the recent murders of the Asian American women. Especially as one of the only Asian American women in my classes, they must have known that I was struggling but they still didn’t say anything. I think acknowledging events that affect people of color in the classroom is really meaningful. Ideally, they would say something [in class] like, “In light of these recent events, I want to take time to think about these families. Please take time to reflect and educate yourself on this and here are some resources to help you do so.” Another step that professors should take is reaching out individually to students, because the students should not feel like it’s their responsibility to reach out for help or extensions in light of recent events. Professors should reach out, because then you’d know that someone’s there for you and it is incredibly important for students to know that adult figures in their lives are there for them.
Q: What have you been doing to take care of yourself as a student of color in a predominantly white institution?
A: I feel that solidarity within the POC community is extremely important and especially within the Asian community. I think that I’ve never truly realized how important it is to have friends of color because I always was in a school that was predominately white, but it is so incredibly powerful to align and to connect with people who look like you. Trying to explain the emotions I’ve been feeling in the last couple of weeks to a white person is extremely challenging and emotionally draining, so it is really important to talk to people that don’t need that initial explanation. That’s how I practice caring for myself and looking out for myself. I’m an extrovert, so being able to talk to people who look like me and process my emotions is so important.
The other big thing about caring for myself is validating my own emotions and having other people validate my emotions. That would be from the Asian American community, as well as my white friends who are extremely empathetic and can really listen and just say, “I can’t understand you’re going through, but I can listen to it and your emotions are valid.” I think that validating myself and knowing that my emotions are okay to feel, especially during a time like this, is very important for me to move forward and develop myself and keep my mental health in check.
Q: What should Davidson be doing to care for students?
A: I think that one of the biggest parts of Davidson is the Honor Code and staying true to it. Students are expected to uphold that. But in addition, the administration should also uphold the Honor Code themselves and hold themselves accountable if they don’t follow it. For example, the administration sent out a statement in support of the Asian American community but then didn’t acknowledge that they don’t have an Asian American counselor. It’s unfortunate that we do not have one now, but to create full transparency and trust within the student body and the administration, they should acknowledge the action steps they are taking to hire one. 100% transparency is so important as it shows that the administration is listening to students, Asian American students in particular, and people of color.
Creating more spaces for marginalized groups on campus is also necessary, because we don’t have a space where we feel confident or feel safe to share our opinions. It’s ridiculous that we don’t have a physical space for us. Everywhere is dominated by white people. We need a place where our voices do not get silenced and we feel protected.
Q: What should students be doing to support each other, particularly the Asian and Asian American students on campus?
A: Everyone needs to work towards pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and engaging in dialogues about race, and not just with people of color. Even if you’re in a friend group with all white people, you should engage in talking about your own roles in society. I think that the biggest thing that every student should practice is acknowledging their own privilege in society and acknowledging their own place in society. So, for example,for me, I’m an Asian American, and I’m a woman, so I face oppression in society, but in addition to that, my family is white and upper middle class. Because of that, I have opportunities that I might not get otherwise. But I acknowledge that in my dialogue first before we start so then we can start recognizing our own respective places that we come from.
In order to support an Asian American community, in order to support people of color, in order to be in solidarity, people have to practice becoming vulnerable and people have to become more educated. I’ve had dialogues with white friends where we both were not comfortable. However, we each pushed each other to the edge of our learning edge of discomfort. A place where we knew the conversation was uncomfortable but we were in a safe space. That’s how you slowly break the barriers down. By refusing to leave your comfort zone, you are conforming. You’re not doing any good by staying silent and for example, just reposting stories and not taking further action. Even though it is emotionally draining to talk about race and racism from both sides and to create a space where both feel safe to become vulnerable and share their stories, it’s important work to do and a necessary step to take in order to “stand in solidarity” with people of color.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to say?
A: When I went to the Unveiled and Unvarnished play performed by Davidson students, one phrase from the debrief afterwards really stuck with me: practice radical honesty. I think that’s something that every single person on campus can work on, including me. Regardless if you’re a person of color or whether you are a white person, radical honesty is being fully honest in dialogues about race and acknowledging everyone’s privilege, everything should be on the table. Practicing radical honesty with yourself is acknowledging your own inherent racial biases. As a person of color, for me, that means acknowledging that all of my emotions are valid, which is easier said than done. In the last scene of the play, they ask the audience to imagine a Davidson where people of color don’t feel marginalized. I don’t think that’s necessarily going to happen in my next three and a half years here, but it does give us something to work toward.
I think it’s important that everyone, people of color and white people, don’t fall into this existential mindset of, “This is a big world, and I have such a small voice and my small voice is not gonna make an impact.” That mindset is how we start conforming to a white hierarchy society that oppresses people of color. For white people, it’s important that they engage with their own fragility as a white person and acknowledge their own privilege. I do think that as long as we actively push to be an anti-racist society every single day at Davidson, we can make progress. It just takes a lot of time and commitment from every single student. You make room for those voices that have been silenced, and you push yourself out of your comfort zone, and know that it might not be easy and you might offend people. But I think it’s better to do that than to just say silent and conform.