Kaye Mao ’21

Having chopsticks at Commons was kind of a big deal for Kern (Ziyu Qi), a junior from Guangzhou, China. This idea crossed his mind as early as the first couple of months of his time at Davidson, and he was finally able to make this request by pinning a napkin onto the new interactive comments board in the dining hall. Kern, who is also the current Vice President of Chinese Culture Club, is very excited about being able to use stainless steel chopsticks for his Commons meals at some point before he graduates. 

Is eating with chopsticks really that important? 

Although I haven’t interviewed enough Chinese students at Davidson to pick up on a preference in its broadest sense, personal experience says access to chopsticks indeed carries much weight in my Chinese identity.

As I adjust daily routines from “Davidson mode” to “home mode,” convincing the muscles in my hands to readapt to frequent chopstick usage can be a pain. 

Friends from home often use this as an opportunity to gently tease me for my “loss of Chineseness.” 

While I usually just flash a smile at their remarks and continue eating, two follow-up questions—which I sometimes don’t quite know the answers to—inevitably arise: “What exactly does it mean to be Chinese?” and “How exactly is Chinese culture defined?” 

These two questions also highlight the central issue Chinese Culture Club is currently focusing on, which is more effectively summarized as our group’s search for a consistent, collective identity. 

As a student organization, Chinese Culture Club is dedicated to inspiring constructive conversations around topics like cultural belonging and resonation, as well as to initiating ways of making interpersonal connections that help to promote a more friendly overall campus surrounding. 

We encourage those who would like to share aspects of their Chinese cultural backgrounds and experiences to contribute to our organization’s overarching goal.

Based on my involvement in Chinese Culture Club’s various events as an e-board member (treasurer since fall of 2018), I can confirm that one of the club’s initial purpose is to create a platform that allows Davidson students and faculty to engage in meaningful interactions as they explore Chinese cultural elements and customs. 

Two of our featured events for celebrating Chinese traditional festive occasions include our annual Mid-Autumn Festival gathering and our collaboration with Asian Culture and Awareness Association (ACAA) for the Chinese New Year gala. 

Chinese Culture Club’s effort to create settings where the greater Davidson community can explore and interact with various parts of Chinese culture has received recognition from students and faculty. 

Such positive feedback motivates our e-board members to strive to deliver even more well-rounded cultural and intellectual experiences for our campus population, as well as interested townspeople.

 Since the spring of 2019, Chinese Culture Club has also begun to encourage campus-wide discussion or reflection on personal stories and cultural identity. 

More specifically, the club carried out an initiative to host story time series: thematic speaker events where our guests shared personal stories about navigating their Chinese or Asian identities. 

We hope such new opportunities for open and genuine communication will increase the club’s presence and expand our scope of influence on campus, which would in turn improve our ability to better contribute to building an inclusive Davidson community. 

In addition, Chinese Culture Club leads the initiative to seek faculty guidance and support in creating conversational settings where Chinese or Asian students can comfortably articulate thoughts and needs that might otherwise remain unnoticed. 

One of the club’s panel events, Navigating Davidson as Asians, held on Thursday, October 17th featured Associate Dean of Faculty and Chair of Chinese Studies Dr. Fuji Lozada, Assistant Professor of Art and Chinese Studies Dr. Rosaline Kyo, and Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Dr. Yan Zhuang. 

This panel received a great turnout, and the student audience actively interacted with the guest speakers to process challenges they’ve encountered on campus in part due to their cultural identities.

In general, Davidson has an atmosphere that welcomes and cherishes diversity. There are plenty of on-campus events where students and faculty celebrate cultural and ethnic differences, establishing a more extensive understanding of one another, which in turn facilitates deeper personal ties. 

One challenge that most members of our community often encounter in trying to establish such unique friendships is time constraints. 

Although most of us would agree that a diverse campus environment is a special asset to be cherished, we can only manage to invest so much of our time and attention in getting to know cultural elements that are new to us. Admittedly, it is difficult to change people’s most-likely-packed schedules. 

We inevitably have to miss out on being a part of certain valuable human interactions and getting a taste of exotic insights. 

But we could be more intentional about staying respectfully curious about customs and preferences that don’t necessarily align with our own. 

We could also be more willing to open up parts of ourselves that diverge from the more prevalent norms or practices at Davidson, reciprocating other community members’ genuine efforts to get to know us better.

Kaye Mao ’21 is an economics and political science double major from Guangzhou, China. Contact her at kamao@davidson.edu.