Nick Nguyen ’22 (he/ him)
On March 17th, 2021, I woke up to a slew of news notifications, reading “Eight dead in Atlanta-area spa shootings, suspect arrested.” I read the article and realized that six out of the eight victims were Asian or Asian American women. I immediately thought of my Vietnamese American mother who is a nail technician back in Maryland. In a frenzy, I called her and asked if she was okay or nervous about going to work. To think that my mother could be the next victim of rising Asian hate crimes terrified me. That day, it was extremely difficult to concentrate in class. My mind constantly wandered off, wondering if either my mom, brother, or even myself would be the next victim in a horrific hate crime. I am grateful for the people who reached out to me that day; however, not one administrator or professor of mine acknowledged the massacre. Asian students were distraught, wondering if they would be next.
The next day, March 18th, 2021, Summit Coffee Outpost (‘Nummit’) announced on its Instagram that they were closing after this academic year. I was surprised but quickly dismissed it. Like other Asian and Asian American students, we were still grieving and coping, trying to continue with all of this grief and anxiety. In response to the news, many students, majority white, were shocked and outraged by the news. From Instagram to Twitter, the news circulated like wildfire and dominated campus discourse. On Nummit’s Instagram post, dozens of students and alumni expressed their feelings of sadness and frustration. I even heard students wanted to organize against Dining Services for re-acquiring that location. Yet the administration and my professors still hadn’t acknowledged the mass murder. I was angry and frustrated. I felt that my community was diminished and not seen. Our suffering and lived experience were marginalized. It seemed like an on-campus coffee shop with expensive avocado toast and coffee was valued more than my community’s livelihood.
This series of events perfectly illustrate how disconnected the vast majority of students are from injustices that affect their marginalized peers. I am not devaluing the emotions and thoughts of the people saddened by Nummit’s closing. But deciding to organize and take up virtual space in light of a horrific massacre of my community was insensitive, especially when campus is in need of Asian American Studies and an Asian mental health counselor. We already know that Davidson College is a predominantly white and wealthy institution, where most students hold extreme privilege and power. However, most privileged students, as in white, cisgender, wealthy, and/or heterosexual, don’t realize that this prestigious environment is a bubble — an idealistic community supposedly impervious to oppression, at least for the majority. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and other marginalized students still face oppression both away and on campus. From microaggressions to systemic oppression, we perceive and experience Davidson differently. My biggest problem with our community is that our cultural bubble breeds this belief that privileged students can choose when to show up and what to put energy into.
Before the pandemic, Bryan Stevenson came to campus and lectured on hope and understanding. I vividly remember seeing the basketball arena filled to the brim with people wanting to hear Stevenson’s words. A majority of Davidson students, both white and BIPOC, attended. One quote resonated with me: Stevenson said, “The most powerful thing we can do is to get proximate to people so that we can wrap our arms around them and confirm their humanity, confirm their dignity.” I thought this message also resonated with others, especially privileged folks since they have a spotty record in showing up to anti-racist and other equity events. Fast forward to March 17th and 18th — it was clear that the majority didn’t show up for Asian lives, instead showing up for a coffee shop.
As a Davidson community, we pride ourselves in cultivating humane instincts and solving pressing issues. But how can we if we are stuck in a bubble of privilege, disconnected from tangible problems? I write this piece for every student, urging you to think critically about what intersectional identities (as in race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, etc.) you occupy and how such identities contribute to your privilege and/or marginalization. However, I specifically urge white, wealthy, cisgender, and heterosexual students to think critically about your privilege and power, exploring what ways you can use them to support and empower disenfranchised people. We, as in BIPOC folks, cannot change the color of our skin, our facial features, our hair type, or any other phenotype. Marginalization and oppression are everyday realities for us, even on Davidson’s campus. You cannot choose when to turn a blind eye to the issues hurting your marginalized peers. You cannot choose when to show up for or back out of equity initiatives because, if you say that you stand with minorities, we need constant engagement to achieve liberation.
As of editing this Perspective, April 12th, 2021, Davidson College announced that Summit Coffee Outpost will remain on campus with a new agreement, providing unrestricted Dining Dollar usage and a late-night meal option. This change is a perfect example of when the hegemony demands something, their needs are met with urgency while equity initiatives take years or even decades. With students, families, and alumni organizing for this coffee shop, this begs the question if the majority dedicates as much time, energy, and money to other, more pressing issues, then Davidson College would be a more inclusive and equitable place. Therefore, show up and give more thought to the issues your disenfranchised peers face. Come to Monuments Initiative events. Give money to the Davidson Community Fund. Uplift marginalized voices and be an active accomplice, plain and simple.
Nick Nguyen is an anthropology major on the pre-medicine track from Salisbury, MD and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.