Experiences of Asian Americans Informs Leadership Preparation, Equity, and Inclusion
What do the experiences of Asian Americans bring to the conversation on leadership preparation, equity, and inclusion?
Dr. Irene Yoon from the University of Utah holds a conversation with Dr. Rebecca Cheung, University of California Berkeley, and Jeff Lam, Franklin High School in Seattle, WA.
Dr. Yoon's Show Notes
There are many Asian American scholars who study leadership inclusive of, but not specifically on, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in UCEA and AERA Division A. However, a few scholars who study Asian American leaders’ experiences and theorize Asian American leadership specifically are Daniel D. Liou and Jia Grace Liang. Scholars of Asian American leadership and policy who are outside of our immediate field are Kevin Kumashiro, Bic Ngo, Yoon Pak, Monisha Bajaj, Debra Kawabata, Jean Lau Chin, and Christopher TH Liang. There are more students and practitioners who are studying Asian American and Pacific Islander youth leadership, community leadership, Asian American studies, Asian American issues in education and teacher education, and business leadership. It’s an exciting time of growth for Asian American voices in academia.
If you’re an Asian American educator and would like to find and participate in an online community, follow @miseducAsian or search for our Twitter chats using the #miseducAsian hashtag. We chat on Twitter on the first Wednesday of every month.
For Asian American educational organizations, check out the Yuri Education Project (yurieducationproject.com) or AALDEF, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
There are so many podcasts related to Asian America now. Some are Asian Enough, Asian American History 101, Throughline (led by two South Asians, with a broader interest in undertold histories), Self Evident, and AAWW (Asian American Writers Workshop).
There are many collectives, advocacy groups, and non-profits online. Just search Twitter or Instagram and you’ll be led from one to the next.
This list is very incomplete and is surely missing important people and organizations. That is my error and I sincerely apologize. I hope people reply to this episode with more leads so that we can all find each other and support each other in building justice for all of us.
- Senior Producer: Mónica Byrne Jimenez.
- Executive Producer: John Nash
- Episode Producer: Irene Yoon
- Editor: John Nash
- Theme Music: Josef Pres
- Percussion Interlude: Hubert Michel
== INTRO ==
John Nash: From the University Council for Educational Administration. I'm John Nash. This is Cafe UCEA.
What do the experiences of Asian Americans bring to the conversation on leadership preparation, equity, and inclusion? Dr. Irene Yoon from the University of Utah, convenes a panel to explore this question, stay tuned.
== PREFACE ==
John Nash: Irene, it's great to see you. How are you doing?
Irene Yoon: I'm doing great. Thank you. Thanks for coordinating all of us.
John Nash: Yeah, absolutely. What are you hoping folks take away from the conversation we're about to hear?
Irene Yoon: I think Asian Americans are amazing leaders and people and scholars and educators, and we have such passion. I think there are stereotypes about Asians being sort of quiet and not wanting to rock the boat. And those stereotypes are definitely true. Excuse me. But we also are fiery and passionate. And I just want to hear, I want people to hear that come through that, you know, our voices are often not highlighted in or amplified in like the biggest spaces or even within our own fields, but I hope you can really feel them. Just that there's a lot of, there's a lot of love and rage that go into what we're doing.
John Nash: Definitely. I had the privilege to, to hear the episode as we put this together and it's yeah, it's It's heartfelt. It's funny at times you you and full of passion thinking about where we can go.
And as you said, quoting Mariame Kaba, "Hope is a discipline." Thinking about this beyond you covered a lot of ground, you talked about things like how your own Asian names are not official. You talked about the bamboo ceiling, intersectionality of identities. And then the conversation turned to talking about working across all Asian American communities and BIPOC communities to call anti-blackness in, in the Asian American communities and in others. I think what I hear across our episode so far is that. You can't just show up for justice. If you don't already know who you are. I think that's coming across with our first episode.
It's here to that to make a more just world that first rung on that ladder is the personal work, understanding how you feel personally, is that, is that fair?
Irene Yoon: I think it is. And I would just add on that who you are, knowing who you are, is inseparable from knowing history. So, you know, you have to know your own, you have to know others and, and how they're all connected.
You know, I think researchers have learned how to slice and dice stories. And I think that does a disservice when it comes to showing up and knowing who you are and in relation to other people, it's always in relation.
John Nash: So let's let people hear the conversation. Can you tell us a little bit about the folks we're going to hear from?
Irene Yoon: They both bring such a smile to my face. So Jeff Lam, I've actually known for awhile. We met when I was living in Seattle as a grad student and he was training to become a teacher. And, so I've like lightly followed we have mutual friends and so I've sort of lightly followed along his career.
He's an assistant principal at Franklin high school in Seattle, Washington. Franklin is in the central district of the city if you know Seattle at all, and it's a historic high school and has been at the center of a lot of community work and also a lot of conversations about busing and AP and racial inequity in schooling.
Rebecca Cheung is incredible. If you read her bio, your jaw just kind of drops with how much she's accomplished and how influential she is and like a totally low-key way. She is the director of leadership programs at the university of California, Berkeley. And she does research, she's actively writing.
But she's often not really considered part of like a tenure track or research faculty world because of her clinical role. So she's very active in bridging research and teaching and policy building and standards building. So. She is really amazing. Like the cohorts of leaders that she's built are, are talented and diverse and beautiful.
So I'm excited that they both were able to be there.
John Nash: Yeah. I know we are, too. Irene Yoon and thank you so much. Let's hear what everybody said.
Irene Yoon: Can I just say one thing though that I add on?
John Nash: Please, please. Go.
Irene Yoon: Okay. So one thing that Rebecca mentioned after the ended is that we just continued to talk about the ways that Asians are at the crossroads, you know, she had mentioned Asian Americans being at the crossroads in so many issues and communities.
And I just thought, you know, I just want to raise that or like play that out a little bit farther for people. So if you're thinking about Immigration and undocumented folks. And you're trying to consider justice around that. That includes Asian Americans. If you're thinking about like dismantling cis-hetero, patriarchy Asian Americans, you know, are involved in that and also need to be involved in that way more.
So I think that, you know, no matter which issue, Asian Americans are there and are working really hard on justice in so many, in so many facets that if you think of any issue, then you'll recognize that we're there. And We're doing a lot of exciting stuff and that like, we're complicated, we're at the crossroads of everything, you know? We're sort of this microcosm of all the gorgeous stories in the US and also all of the oppressions.
John Nash: Yeah. It goes to something Rebecca says in your conversation about it's it goes beyond the numbers.
Irene Yoon: Yeah, just that, like, you know, when you think about representation or when you think about inclusion, it's not just about numbers. It's because we're human. You know, we don't deserve to have our voices understood and we don't deserve to have our stories told because of numbers. We deserve it because we're human.
John Nash: Exactly. Yeah. Thank you.
Irene Yoon: Great.
John Nash: All right. Thanks.
Irene Yoon: Thanks.
John Nash: Take care.
Irene Yoon: Take care. Bye.
==== PANEL ====
Irene Yoon: Hi, welcome to the UCEA cafe. The UCEA cafe is a podcast put on by the university council for educational administration. And it's a podcast that aims to unpack social constructs and systems of thinking about education through the story of the people who are on the show. So we're interested in helping our audience reframe their notions of learning and schooling through real stories from people who are questioning the way things we do who we are and how we've been making cheese.
Today. My name is Irene Yoon and I'm an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the university of Utah. I'm hosting a podcast to talk about Asian Americans and our experiences and knowledges in and for leadership preparation. And so today I have two amazing, awesome panelists with me who are.
So excited to talk to together and I'm going to let them introduce themselves. Yeah.
Rebecca Cheung: Okay.
Irene Yoon: I think maybe I'll introduce myself a little bit shy. Keep going anyway. All right. So first let's just go an alpha order, Rebecca.
Rebecca Cheung: All right. Well, thank you for having me. I'm Rebecca Cheung. I'm the executive director of leadership programs at UC Berkeley, and I'm really happy to be here.
Jeff Lam: And my name is Jeff Lam. I'm the assistant principal at Franklin High School in Seattle Public Schools. And it's a pleasure to be here as well.
Irene Yoon: I should add also that this is Irene speaking. I identify as I am Korean American. But I also identify more broadly or public spaces as an Asian-American woman of color.
I do also identify as disabled and I use she her pronouns. And when I'm in front of a classroom, I say my preferred name is Dr. Yoon, Professor Yoon, but here we're just saying. Is there anything else that you wanted to add about yourselves?
Rebecca Cheung: Sure. So I'm I'm Rebecca Cheung. Some people call me Dr. Cheung, but here at Berkeley, we pretty much call everybody by their first names. So I'm mostly Rebecca. And I always say that I'm also MingHao and MingDeh’s mother that's how I'm mostly known outside of my professional. I identify as Chinese American and I'm also the mother in a blended family and I go by she, her, new.
Yeah, and I identify as second generation Chinese American identify as male as heterosexual, cisgender identify as a Christian and also identify by my politics, identify as progressive.
Irene Yoon: Thank you. Given your professional roles, the worlds that you're in what are some of the ways that you've been thinking about what it means to have an Asian yourself like your own experiences as an Asian person in leadership?
Maybe? One of the things that I was thinking about was that in my professional role as a faculty member, I think working at the University of Utah in my specific department has been really joyful because my department and our college of education happens to have like a great cohort of second gen Asian American women, faculty who all sort of started together at the same time.
And so, as we were going through tenure together, it was just a really remarkable experience for me personally, to, to have that. And it was so rare, like I've never, especially in education or educational leadership, like I had really, I had had friends who were Asian, but often they were in other departments, you know, like in higher ed, or curriculum and instruction. And I just think that it's been, you know, talking about what it's like to try to learn the role and figure out your authority and your voice as a faculty member to do that with other Asian American women and process just our family then, and how.
Who we are, comes into play, I think has been really an amazing unexpected sort of gift for me. Cause I was so used to not having it. I was so used to like, not like usually being, usually being the only Asian if nothing, persons of color.
Rebecca Cheung: This summer I was teaching cohort 21 of the principal leadership Institute. And on the first day we always, it's a class about identity and leadership. And so on the first day, I always share a little bit about my own identity autobiography with students, and then ask them to as a way to launch an assignment for them to write about some of their coordinates.
And this summer one Asian student, I only have a few every year, but I have one Asian student raised his hand and said, you know, you're the first Asian American professor I've ever had in my life. And then he said, you're the first Asian American leader that I've ever gotten to meet or learn from, or have, you know, have a relationship with.
And I was sort of struck again about the only line, the only the first. And and when you asked me what my experience has been, the only and the first, from the very beginning as a child sink or swim, you know, English learner went to school in Virginia in a sink or swim program. You know, my parents were told not to speak to us in, in Chinese and then all the way through high school, the only one and for most of my professional career. Yeah.
Irene Yoon: Yeah. And I noticed also that that's why your I mean your, your first name is Rebecca. And my first name's Irene, right. Our Asian names are, are not official. [laughs]
Jeff Lam: And that that really resonates because one of the striking experiences that I've had this is my I'll be entering my fifth year as a building administrator. And, you know, one of the you know, yearly rituals that we go through is the seventh. All district admin meeting, right where we get together for a, for a good full week.
We're in a big cafeteria or gymnasium or as we're this year in a zoom call and you kind of look around and I, I, I go through a yearly ritual, right, where I realized how many other Asian Americans are there and how many other Asian American men are there also. And. There aren't any. [laughs] like, you know what I mean, just kinda start truth is that there are still precious few.
I look around this year and, you know, grant again, we were on a virtual meeting, but I don't recall seeing another Asian face on the screen and that's really striking experience for me. And when I looked around in previous years around the cafeteria, you know, who was around me and, and who, who were the leaders there?
Yeah, there's just less than less than a handful, maybe, maybe on a good year, a dozen. But very, very few. And so one of the challenges I've definitely wanted to where I've, I've had to grapple with it. I'm sure this will come up more later on. It's just the experience of the reality that most people that I work with will have had very, very few experiences working with an Asian American leader.
And so, because I am their first Asian American supervisor. Or leader or professional development facilitator, you know, their experience with me is very different and that's something that I've had to, we continue to wrestle with and, and, and negotiate.
Rebecca Cheung: You know, since this is a podcast about UCEA. Or, sponsored by UCEA. I've been thinking a lot about my own experiences inside UCEA over the now almost 11 years that I've been working at UC Berkeley. And the first time I went to a UCEA conference, I'm pretty sure I was the only Asian American, but you might not have graduated yet at that point, Irene. [laughs]
And so I remember thinking it's me and the person who works in quantitative studies. Yeah. You know, the stereotypes are all there. People not knowing how to pronounce my name, even though it's Rebecca. I mean, there's the Cheung part, but it's not that hard. And just, just being more aware of the national landscape and the national representation issues.
Here's Jeff, I'm struck by the fact that. Jeff saying he's the only one and he works in Seattle. I mean, wow. And so so I think it's important to note that too, that it's it's, it's when we think about the national landscape and then, and then take it to leadership preparation, which is a whole another more niche group.
Irene Yoon: Yeah.
Rebecca Cheung: This is a special conversation. Yeah.
Irene Yoon: Jeff, that struck me too, because it made me think about as a faculty member. I was like, you know what? I don't think, I think I may have had one maybe Asian student In our leadership preparation program, the handful of Asian students or Asian American students that I've had have been in our teacher leadership or in our PhD programs.
And I'm thinking like there must be something happening, you know, on Twitter I know a lot of Asian American teachers, but very few administrators. And I am wondering like, maybe there's something To the pipeline where, as you were talking about your experiences with supervision, and I think this happens for Asian-American women too, is like not being seen as, this is part of that bamboo ceiling.
That's been talked about more and more this year. I think just not being recognized for leadership skills or being presumed to be like someone who doesn't like the spotlight or can't handle it, or isn't, isn't like authoritative in their, in their leadership and stance or isn't charismatic.
Right? And that stereotype of the Asian immigrant statistics methodology scholar. That's a stereotype in part, cause like there, it it's a population for sure. You know? But I think for me, it's been learning how, like I've always felt as a second gen person like, our experiences are so different that I wasn't sure they would like ever find, feel like anything was in common with me, but I've been trying to shift that to, well, maybe they feel that I think that about them. So like, actually it's been really lovely to become close friends with some first gen or 1.5 gen, like Asian immigrant faculty. And just to realize like we're experiencing such similar things, cause like the white institutions don't know the difference. [laughs] You know?
Jeff Lam: Yeah.
Yeah, I think there's something to that pipeline question that you bring up there. Irene, and you know, I remember earlier, earlier this year, actually having a conversation with some colleagues, you know, I think right around February, March, I, I feel like we, you know, administrators start to have conversations about oh, who's moving on and who's going to be stepping into new roles and who's getting tapped for what position. And the conversation came up where, you know, I shared with the, a trusted colleague. I, I feel like those who are in you know, district leadership positions, because they've had so few Asian American leaders of schools, especially high schools, I would say. You know, I think most of the Asian American leaders I know of work in elementary schools. So there's particularly, it's particularly rare to see high school leaders. But because they've seen so few Asian American leaders take the helm of a prominent high school in the district that I wondered if it's hard for them to imagine to place the next Asian American person that's thought because they've never seen it happen and where they so rarely seem to happen, that there it's almost a, a problem of imagination. Right. They can't see, see that possibly of working.
How could that, how could that, how could that Chinese guy, right, step into that community and, and lead lead a staff 150 teachers and this community and so on. And so
Irene Yoon: I'm going to pause just because Rebecca jumped off.
Jeff Lam: Okay.
Irene Yoon: So, Jeff, as you were talking about like noticing or want thinking through like who gets promoted, who's moving where I interrupted you a little bit by saying. And we got cut off. So what, what would you like to say about just thinking about the pipeline issue?
Jeff Lam: Yeah, I was just wondering to myself, you know, those who occupy leadership positions at the district level, who get to make decisions about appointments to, to school leadership positions. Like I wondered to myself with, and I had a conversation with a colleague earlier this year about whether or not there is a problem of imagination, and that is that it's hard for people to imagine an Asian American leader, particularly an Asian American leader of a prominent school in a district where, you know, the stakes might be a little bit higher.
There's a little bit more microscope under the goings on at that school. And it's hard for them to imagine, you know, could this Asian American leader really take the helm? Can we imagine this person in front of a staff meeting? Can we imagine the person in front of the cafeteria in front of all these families fielding all these questions?
Do they have that it factor? Right. That, that it factor that we'll, you know, move this community forward in a positive direction or at least keep it stable. And I wondered that because, because so few have seen an Asian American here, because so few have had the opportunity to step into that kind of role there's just probably not a comfort level appointing someone or choosing someone to step into that role? It seems like it might feel like a lot more of a risk. Right. And so and so because, you know leadership positions at schools are oftentimes by appointment. I think that there is a really big pipeline concern there.
Irene Yoon: Yeah. And expanding that imagination of. When you're preparing leaders for those against those standards, like, what does voice sound like? What does facilitating community conversations look like? What does that kind of like strength and sensitivity look like if it may, I mean, it may not be what people are thinking of when they write those rubrics right?
Jeff Lam: Yeah, what am I? One of my mentors who does not work in public education told me once that she has observed that Asian American leaders, when they're in district meetings that kind of. They tend to be very hierarchical, right? So we're very deferential to our leaders. But then when we work with our schools and our, with our, those who work, quote unquote underneath us, we tend to be a lot more egalitarian and in terms of listening and so on, and that can be interpreted as being too deferential, not, not leaderly like enough, not enough leadership skills.
And so my mentor was just telling me that, you know, that's something to be attentive to. That that's, that that's potentially a default posture that you might take on that may be interpreted in many different kinds of ways, by those who are watching you.
Irene Yoon: like it's so bad to listen or know how to let your peers distrib- like share leadership? Oh my God. Anyway. [laughs]
Jeff Lam: Right, right. Exactly.
Irene Yoon: I just needed to reframe that advice.
Jeff Lam: Right. Right, right.
Irene Yoon: It's a real truth. But also. I just have a hard time living with that. You know, like living to that, even though it is reality.
Rebecca Cheung: Two connections I want to make to Jeff's. Reflections one is in my career when I entered the principalship, I, there was only one other Asian American female leader and she was what I would call a dragon lady.
She had a dragon lady persona and I am not a dragon lady. I don't think I don't, I don't aspire to be one. But what I learned is that the women who came before me who made it to Jeff's point had to use the dragon lady persona to get their authority, to get people, to listen to them and they that's how they established themselves.
And so then here I am coming in, like what, what has happened? And first of all, everybody thought I was her niece. I didn’t even know this lady, but everyone was sure I was related to her and everybody assumed I was going to behave just like her. Right. So
Irene Yoon: Oh my gosh there are so—hold on Rebecca, I just have to, I—they thought you were her niece? [Jeff Lam is laughing.]
Rebecca Cheung: Yes, of course they did. And they sent me her mail.
Jeff Lam: [laughing] Of course, Of course.
Rebecca Cheung: I mean the human resource department,
Irene Yoon: So not only do you all know each other, you're all related.
Rebecca Cheung: Yes. And my mail,
Irene Yoon: Holy moly.
Rebecca Cheung: my mail was sent to her. By human resources. Repeatedly. [Jeff: Oh wow.] Okay. If that tells you anything. So it's just, I think it's, this is such an interesting compliment. These two experiences. Thank you, Jeff, for inspiring that memory in me.
I think that's, it's and then the other one I'll say is just here in the Bay Area, because we do have a higher concentration of Asian educators in the Bay Area. And then I think as a result Asian leaders, not a lot, but. What I see is a lot of racialized patterns around hiring. So we hire Asian leaders for Asian schools, for example or even Asian assistant superintendents who who are assigned to certain areas of the city, for instance, that sort of thing. And maybe some of that is linguistic, although I don't think so in certain cases, because I don't think that the, those candidates necessarily are fluent in there, you know? There's sort of a family languages or that the schools that they, they supervise have predominant populations of those languages.
So so I think that there's a lot of gender, there's a lot of twists and turns to how this stuff manifests in different environments.
Jeff Lam: Yeah.
Irene Yoon: Yeah. And if you add on the layer of, recognizing, like, I think there is more in the news, conversations about the diversity among Asian Americans like south Asians and Southeast Asian Americans. And then like some people consider a Pacific Islanders to be part of Asian American like Asian American population.
I think, I think that what's been important for me is to realize like, yeah, I experienced a lot of this stuff, but I am Korean American. And like, that's one of the quote, unquote privileged groups among Asian Americans. I have fair skin. I have a high level education. And so do my parents, like nobody comes like we didn't come to this country with money or anything, but, you know, they had education so they could sort of hang on to that American dream story. And I think the different ethnicities and class and different like colonial relationships to the U S like for Filipinos, for Filipinx Americans like Korean Korea has a really specific military relationship with the United States that is different from all those other countries.
And in some ways, Yeah. I mean, for sure, compared to like the Philippines, it was less directly violent or, or like overtly violent, you know? So there's privilege in that, but also like things that get hidden or, or not discussed. So
Jeff Lam: yeah.
Irene Yoon: I feel like it's been like listening to the conversation about the women in Georgia who were killed.
They were many were Korean American and Chinese American and remembering the class differences within our groups and then also the histories of sex work and relationships to American society. And, and then also like the labor. The labor dynamics. Like they, they were not sex workers, most of them, but like the labor dynamic of like, you're on your, you're squatting over people's feet doing pedicures or using your whole body to massage, right? Like it's, it's a very physical labor. So it's different from other like communities that have gotten racialized into. Janitorial or house house cleaning or domestic work. But anyway, I'm kind of rambling, but I just feel like the. The things that Rebecca, being assumed to be related to this person, just like really challenged, makes it feel like a challenge to also recognize the depth and like diversity and textures of all of our histories. I'm always like, I don't know. It's a long road to travel. We have far to go.
Jeff Lam: Right. No question.
Irene Yoon: What are some of the ways that you have tried to, like, for me, it's been a learning journey too. Cause all of these histories and stories and diversities or whatever, it's pretty much self-taught right. So what have been some of your experiences with learning, how to support and work with Asian American communities that aren't your own ethnicity or like other communities of color?
Jeff Lam: Yeah. I mean, I think I can share a couple quick things here related to that. One of the things that we did at Franklin this past school year is we actually the past couple of years, we, we started meeting in racial affinity groups. And so we have this big, broad category of Asian American affinity group and we get together and we talk.
And of course, as you already pointed out here, the category Asian American is very unstable and incoherent because it captures such a broad range of experiences that it's -- it verges on meaningless at times. Right? And so, you know, we get together and we talk a lot. And one of the things, one of my experiences this past school year has just been I want to be able to say this and add this caveat that this is not representative of all Asian American experiences and so on.
I just want to make sure that that's out there. But one of the things that I focus a lot of my time on, or my energies this school year is calling out anti-Blackness within the Asian American affinity group and that's actually been a really challenging experience because I oftentimes am really mindful of a few different dynamics.
One is, I know that I don't, I don't feel comfortable necessarily wanting to call anti-blackness in my Asian American colleagues in a public space at times, right, Like I know that there is there is there's this desire to help those within our community to save face at times, and that I'm not necessarily making claim that that's a good or a bad thing at this point.
But that is something that I've I've wrestled with and I've wrestled with whether or not that's actually the right approach as a leader, but within the confines of our affinity group, that's when I go in, right, And I, and I have a conversation, we talk a lot about comments, right,That come up in our group about antiques that reflect anti-black sentiments in our, in our group.
And so having that kind of reckoning within our own community about the anti-black beliefs that kind of permeate our thinking and, and drives us to act in certain ways has been a really big part of the work. And that's also been balanced with the fact that a lot of our conversation has been actually just trying to come to a deeper understanding of who we are and what our voice is and what it actually means.
Because I think that one of the things I have discerned within our group and within myself to be really clear here has been our conversations about racial equity are oftentimes exist within a black, white binary. And so within the Asian American affinity group, we’re oftentimes left trying to figure out what's, what's our role and what's our voice because we know we're not Black,
Irene Yoon: Right.
Jeff Lam: And we think we're not white. Right? So what does that mean for our voice and who we stand for and who we ally with and what we say and what we do and so on. And, and so a lot of our work has been trying to figure out like, well, what does it mean to be Asian American and. Just one other kind of quick aside here.
I found, I noticed this about myself. That after a full school year, many, I mean, this has been every school year, but particularly past school year where we were constantly engaged with the school community about with, in conversations about racial equity. I mean, this was happening over and over and over again.
And it was by, by design. It was part of our planned staff meeting. Right. This is what we're just doing every, every couple of weeks. This summer I looked over
Irene Yoon: That's amazing. You talked about racial equity every few weeks.
Jeff Lam: Well, and the reason why is because well, I mean there are of these lights, part of our our school culture in many respects, but it's, we went through a year long professional development series on ethnic studies.
And so of course, when you talk about ethnic studies, you've got to talk about racial equity in your own, in your own stuff. And so our own stuff is always coming up and racial issues between staff, every couple weeks. So it's really, really heavy, really intense year. And so after going through those conversations this year, I looked at my summer reading and I realized that I was reading all these Asian writers, right, I looked at my bookshelf, I reading Ocean Vuong, who is and amazing writer, oh my God. I was reading Ted Chiang, I was reading Minor Feelings, right? And I've been reading all these books and. I must really, really have questions about who I am, [laughs]
Jeff: Because I’m really trying to dive into these Asian American identity books, and, but I also realized that, well, I have to do this on my own time.
Irene Yoon: Yeah.
Jeff Lam: This isn't, this isn't a conversation or a thing that I pursue within a professional context. It's something I do on my own time. So I talk with my mentors outside of work, right. About my own identity. I read these books trying to figure out who I am. But anyway, those are just a couple of ways.
And then I'll share another story later on.
Irene Yoon: How amazing, Jeff, I love everything that you're sharing and just like the little glimpses that we can. They're like little doors to huge bodies of effort and work that you're doing. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Rebecca, are you tagging on? I see you making moves.
Rebecca Cheung: Yeah. Well, Jeff inspires me to share some things about that we've been doing inside the leadership programs at Berkeley. So yeah, our programs have been around for over 20 years and they've always had an equity, social justice. But I have to say that during this pandemic, I felt compelled as executive director to bring my own group together and say, it doesn't matter that we have always been about justice and equity.
We have to do more. We have to go deeper. This is, this, this period of our history compels us to push harder, to have more models and to deepen our work. And the first place we started was around anti-blackness, the same place, Jeff, and for us eventually that inspired us to actually go out and reach individually all of the African-American male graduates of our program over 20 years, many of whom were still active leaders in the Bay Area.
And we sought them out and, and brought them together to hear about their experiences as African-American American male leaders, another very underrepresented group
Irene Yoon: [exhales] Yeah
Rebecca Cheung: in, in leadership. And through that, it really wasn't, it was powerful for them because they were networked with each other, but it was really powerful for us as the leaders of our program to, to hear from their everyday lived experiences. And so that was, that was one thing we've been engaged in, in the last year. And the other is that someone on my team stepped up to form an anti-racist white affinity group for those on our own, a leadership team that identify as white and they have been self-organize themselves over this last year to, to really push themselves to do more, to do better, to go deeper, to better understand how they uphold white supremacy, even in our own team and how they need to interrupt that. And that's led to now the formation of an anti-racist white affinity group among our current students and those in the, who have participated in the group internally in our team are now supporting our students to organize such a group within their program. And so I think, and, and of course we, we taught this class on leadership and identity. So we, we, we also sort of laid the groundwork for this, but anyway, all that to say that I think there is a lot to be done and we have to prioritize it.
Otherwise, we're just too busy and other things come into play. And so I think that is part of the work. One other side comment, Irene said we have a long road ahead of us, I agree. I, if I can be somebody's niece, when I get hired, then we have some, we have some work to do. I will say that one thing I've been doing lately, challenging myself to do is to, to be more of a historian.
I wouldn't say that that's my orientation as a person. But recently I was looking up the history of the term, Asian American, who myself,
Jeff Lam: Mmhmm. Yeah. Yeah.
Rebecca Cheung: and realizing that our critique of Asian American as a category now is a demonstration of progress from why this term was created.
Irene Yoon: Right.
Rebecca Cheung: And I think that's part of how we have to, how we maintain our hope, right. And how we see progress is to, to, to do that. Ourselves, because most of us did not. Our educations did not privilege those kinds of contents and it's sort of like a reeducation of sorts. That's what I hear you going through, Jeff, is a re-education. I went, I'm going through reeducation. We all have to do that to a certain degree.
And so I just want to raise that. But for every time I hear critique, I'm trying to discipline myself to go back and understand the why of the original intent. To, to really educate and reeducate myself.
Irene Yoon: Totally like your past, like knowing your past helps you figure out what you want your future to be, right? So and what you're saying reminds me of what Mariame Kaba says, she's an abolitionist educator, She says "hope is a discipline." And I think. But that's what you're modeling for us right now, Rebecca. Yeah.
Even like, I've just been reveling in the explosion of Asian young adult books too Jeff? Like that also helps me recognize like my past self as well as where, how it might be, that I am who I am now, as therapy, you know. [Laughs]
Jeff Lam: Therapy, absolutely.
Irene Yoon: But, yeah, I mean, Rebecca, this leadership and identity class really strikes me as super important because you, like Jeff said, you can't really lead for justice and show up for people, if you don't know who you are yourself. So, it does feel like. A lot of what's been, what I've experienced among Asian American, Asian Americans in general, I guess, is this feeling like, there are so many things we don't talk about. And there's so much pressure to acculturate to the U S that like, we haven't emphasized our Asian-ness cause it hasn't been an asset. And like, we haven't studied our history so much because there's first, there's just a lot of pain, you know, like and then also.
Because it's been presumed to be foreign, or, you know, when actually America is like intertwined in so many countries’ histories in Asia.
Rebecca Cheung: Yeah, sure.
Irene Yoon: Definitely reeducating ourselves. So that we can yeah. Yeah. So that we can show up for like anti-blackness and so that we can remind people of. Anti like indigeneity and like what's happening with undocumented people on the border.
Jeff Lam: Yeah,
Rebecca Cheung: Well, I was going to say in addition to pain and foreignness, I think there's shame. I hear a lot of Asian American second, third gen. I don't speak my home language. You know, I don't do this. I don't do that there
Irene Yoon: Oh yeah.
Saying what they're not, you know,
Irene Yoon: Oh yeah.
Rebecca Cheung: and I'm always saying, but who are you like who you can, everybody's not something, I mean, come on, you know, but who are you? Who do you, what do you stand for and why are you so busy having everybody else define who you are? I mean, I think that that's really where the power is. Pain is, for the, everybody's going to have that based on our histories coming in, that's an assumption.
The question is what are you going to do with it? Right. And, and how do you, in some ways, turn it or optimize or control it, you know? And I think that that's that's where a lot of my conversations with students lie and those issues are across the Asian American, you know diaspora, but they’re also common with many other groups in this country who are othered. Right. And so to your earlier point about solidarities and how we see ourselves in this, in intersecting with this larger community, to me, that that's where it is. It's in the stories and it's in the commonalities.
Irene Yoon: Yeah.
So I, we only have a few minutes left. So what I'd like to do is maybe pose one last question to each of you. What do you wish people learned in leadership preparation programs in their conversations about equity and inclusion in ways that like are inclusive of Asian Americans or what are some of the things you wish people realized Asian Americans and Asian American experiences can bring to a leadership kind of conversation about inclusion.
Jeff Lam: I think that hopefully this is a, an appropriate answer to your question. But I think that as an Asian American you know, it, it wasn't that long ago. I mean, I, I graduated from my leadership program like five or six years ago now. And I think one of the things that would have benefited me the most as a student in the program particularly as it relates to my own identity development as an Asian American leader would have been some sort of opportunity to reflect on what it means to have a commitment to fight against anti-blackness, to stand in solidarity with my Black and Brown brothers and sisters. You know, one of the things that I've experienced as an administrator thus far is, I I've worked on a number of different administrative teams. And what I've noticed has been that the Black administrators that I've worked with, one, have been, you know, they they've done, they've done great work, right. That my two I've worked with two Black administrators to date and they've been really wonderful to work with. And yet they get attacked like no other, Right, and so what's been really striking to me has been that they get under-, They get pushed around, they get attacked people come after them all the time for things that I think in my opinion, I'm biased obviously, but I think are completely unwarranted and justified. And one of the things that I noticed was that oftentimes, especially earlier in my career, white staff members would come to me as the safe minority on the team.
Irene Yoon: Toooootally. Totally. Yes.
Jeff Lam: Yeah. And so they would come to me and say like, Hey, you know, I'm not gonna use anyone's name here, but so-and-so that wasn't right. You know? Or they would say, what do you think about this? Or, or they would look to me to validate what they said in the meeting. Right. They would look to me to validate like, Hey, you know, you're actually not that bad of a person, you know what you said, wasn't that race or whatever it might be. And, and I, I started noticing that pattern, right? Like people would come to me looking for validation, I’m a safe minority. So they had my blessing then surely they were good to go in there. Okay. And at a certain point, I had to commit myself to stand in solidarity with my Black colleague who I believe was, has always enjoyed the right thing. They're doing the right work and they're about the right business and they're doing it the right way. So there's no question that, you know, they're in the right, in my humble opinion here. But in order for, for me to be committed to that, I had to always, I had to have a resolute commitment to refuse to be a safe minority for anybody. And I had to be willing to be a bit, at times really confrontational. Right? And to let people know, [laughs] give them the business, frankly, and let them know what they said was inappropriate. And frankly what they're doing is okay. And that, and then to name it well, that's actually an example of. Anti-blackness in your thought and your behavior and your practice.
And here's, here's some steps that you can take to change course. Here's why, here's why I feel like it's wrong. And here's why I feel like you need to do to resolve the issue. That's that's been a lesson that I have continued to learn, what it means, the costs, the challenge, the, all that kind of stuff to standing in solidarity with Black and Brown communities, particularly Black and Brown leaders of color, you know, that, that work closely with. And that's something that I've just had to learn through experience that, oh yeah. You know, as the Asian American administrator, some people are gonna assume that you are, you're the safe one to talk to and you're not. And you can't be.
Irene Yoon: Amen. Wow. Okay,
Rebecca Cheung: Yes.
This is a really complex question about leadership preparation programs ’cause there's so many things that we could be doing better, frankly, in my opinion, I say we, because I'm part of the group should be doing better. But specifically to Asian Americans I would just challenge my colleagues in the field to think beyond the numbers, in terms of representation, it's easy for us to make arguments about disproportionality, for instance, because of a numerical logic and it's compelling. And I'm, and I don't disagree with it. But I think there is also a place for a specific case, a case of something. And I think that Asian American leadership raises a case of something in the United, in the United States, a case of invisibility, a case of, you know, dismissal, as Jeff was talking about, whatever it might be. And so how do we, and we're not the only group that is a case of these various things. But there are, I think in those examples, when I think about the power of cases, case studies, the power there is in the depth of the example and the transferability to the whole. And so if we were to interrogate the racialized nature of our country and and pose a new vision for the future, I think that holding those dualities includes critiquing what's here, things like disproportionality, and thinking about what the conditions are for true belonging for all people in this country. And that means going beyond the numbers. So I'm just thinking a lot about that duality that we have to be critical, but we also have to have a vision.
Irene Yoon: Right.
Rebecca Cheung: What what is what do we want to come, what would be better? And, and I think Asian American leadership really sits at that nexus that presents a very interesting case of how we can both interrogate the current and dream about the future.
Jeff Lam: Right. I love that.
Irene Yoon: Yeah. Same, I love that. What you were saying about invisibility makes me think also about Indigenous leadership and just like, what does you know, this year, I think people in Canada have been shocked by the residential schools and it's like, there's a lot of people in the US who have no idea about the US’ residential schools and that Canada copied theirs on ours, so I think you know, there's so much rich scholarship and like art and writing from all of our communities that I think is really important to feed and fuel what you're talking about ,both of you like knowing yourself, knowing how to stand up and refuse to be like the, what Mari Matsuda calls, like the Asian bourge-, like the racial bourgeoisie, like refusing to. And at the same time, knowing yourself too, right? You can stand up for others, but also learning how to stand up for yourself has been something that I've personally been learning.
Jeff Lam: Yeah
Irene Yoon: And so I think that there is so much richness out there that we need to look beyond just our own experiences to recognize like, oh yeah, that that's, that's something that I can relate to, or wow, that, that story is something that is so completely different from mine, but I'm realizing that it shows something about an absence in my life that I need to address, you know.
Jeff Lam and Rebecca Cheung: Yes. Yes.
Irene Yoon: So I think really digging into the absences the things you don't know, I think is really something that can help with the work that both of you are doing and talking about. So, yeah.
Hey, I want to thank you both so much for sharing stories that are, and, and you both dropped some, like, sprinkles of wisdom that I think will light a lot of fires in people. And so I just want to thank you both for being here and for sharing this time with me. I know that it's a heavy time with COVID being back on the rise and, and, you know, Jeff, your school is, you were saying 45% Asian and like what, 30% Black or something? And, and. To worry about in terms of racial violence and COVID impacts as well. So thank you for making the time. Thank you for taking care of your communities
Rebecca Cheung: Thanks for organizing this.
Jeff Lam: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Irene Yoon: I hope that we can keep talking about all of these things and learning from what you're doing. Yeah, it's just, I'm just left thinking about so many things. I'm sure a lot will come out in my journal later. Yeah. Thank you again and have an amazing start to your school year.
Jeff Lam: Thank you.
Irene Yoon: Bye.
Rebecca Cheung: Till next time.
Jeff Lam: Okay. Bye. Bye.
==== CREDITS ====
John Nash: Cafe UCEA is a production of the university council for educational administration. The senior producer is Mónica Byrne Jimenez. The executive producer is me and I also edited the episode. Our episode producer was Irene Yoon. Cafe UCEA's theme music is composed by Josef Pres and the percussion interlude is composed by Hubert Michel. Thanks for listening. See you next time.