Interview with Social Justice and Equality Chair Nancy Chen

Rebecca Raskin ’16
Assistant Features Editor

Nancy Chen ’15, with hair dyed bright red and a personality to match, is the chair of the Student Government Social Justice and Equality Committee. The Diversity Reps in each house report to her. The Sophian asked Chen about her experiences at Smith and how they inspired her to become the SJE Committee chair.

At first, Chen described her Smith experience as “interesting.” She quickly elaborated, “I think it was a transformative experience, because before I came to Smith, I had no idea what social justice consisted of; perhaps I was participating and understanding concepts of it, but I never attached a name to the concepts.”

For West Coast native Chen, the East Coast and Smith helped open her eyes to her identity. “I’m from San Francisco and most people there are Asian, which influenced the way I saw things in terms of not feeling marginalized or uncomfortable because I was surrounded by people who were similar to me and my culture, so coming to Smith was a culture shock.” The student body of Smith is more than 12 percent Asian.

Chen continued, “I think it has a lot to do with my background and my lack of … being surrounded by white people? It was a shock. And I [tended], and still tend, to hang out with people of color versus white people because there’s this understanding and comfort. But at the same time, getting used to Smith wasn’t easy. Despite hanging out with people of color from different backgrounds, I was constantly uncomfortable.”

Chen came to understand that the problems she saw at Smith were reflections of problems in larger society. “You realize that it’s not just a part of Smith, but a part of society. The more I got used to it, the more I realized Smith is under funding resources for people of color, like the Office of Institutional Diversity and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.” That realization prompted her to become involved in social justice on campus.

Chen is confident in the importance of Diversity Reps. “Too often, people are too scared to speak up when an incident involving race happens. I know that I’ve experienced microaggressions from people in my house and I was too scared to say something, and to have a rep be a bystander and intervene is good to have.” Microaggressions are verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, either intentional or unintentional, that are hostile towards a minority group.

Chen discussed the importance of not making her experience universal. “This is more a representation of myself and how I feel as a person of color. Not everyone’s experience at Smith is the same. Social justice is something I’m interested in, which helps me be more aware of the inequalities I see at Smith.”

If you are interested in getting involved with the SJE Committee or finding out what resources are available, you can go to http://www.smith.edu/diversity/ for more information.

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