On the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s campus just 10 percent of students are of color according to the admissions office. Of that 10 percent, many are Southeast Asian students looking to live within U.S. society all while maintaining their cultural roots.
One way students strive to maintain these roots, are through programs and events highlighting and promoting their culture.
Students gathered on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s campus Saturday April 15th for the 27th annual Culture Core event hosted by the UW-Eau Claire Hmong Student Association. The event’s theme this year was “Siv Peb Lub Suab: Deconstructing the Dominant Narrative.”
The event featured keynote speaker Chong Moua, founder of Faded Productions, which prioritizes opportunities to and for queer people of color through employment, marketing, promotions and partnerships with the purpose of advancing economic justice for marginalized communities.
Jackson Yang, the Hmong Student Association vice president said that he feels that U.S. mainstream society only emphasizes assimilation.
“Culture Core provides an opportunity for discussion about how students of color in a predominantly white institution can validate themselves and question the many things taught and learned through white institutions,” he said.
Events like Culture Core are just a small fraction of what Hmong and other Southeast Asian UW-Eau Claire students are doing to maintain their culture and values within U.S society. Often times, according to Yang, these students are asked to give in to pressures to assimilate all while striving to maintain important aspects of their own cultural and traditional meanings.
Kristy Moua, a Hmong student on campus, does not feel the campus climate is anything to out of the ordinary. Although she knows that there are issues, she personally has never experienced any hostility or difficulties due to being Hmong.
“I feel that there are no problems around campus for Southeast Asian students that I have experienced,” Moua said. “However, for other Hmong students, I know they have felt oppression on campus.”
This oppression has caused Hmong students to reach out to campus resources for emotional, educational and isolated help. One of UW-Eau Claire’s most prominent resource is Southeast Asian Student Coordinator, Charles Vue, who bridges the gap between these students and the university.
According to Vue, steps have been taken in the right direction to better accommodate students on campus, but he said the progress could be faster.
“You want them here but you’re not willing to accommodate their style or their needs,” Vue said of the university. “We need to create an environment that is conducive for all learners.
Although programs and events to better connect Southeast Asian students with the university have been more prominent over the years, Vue said that they need to walk the walk, in addition to talking the talk.
UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schimdt has been very vocal in his intent to make the campus more diverse and inclusive. An affirmative action advisory group was formed of campus faculty members to ensure greater focus on UW-Eau Claire’s recruitment and retention efforts for faculty and staff.
Vue, although not on the board, focuses heavily on ensuring Southeast Asian, and more particularly, Hmong students have a positive experience once coming to campus. Vue, however, claims that this task is not always an easy one, from students dealing with faculty members to simply being treated differently.
One of Vue’s most memorable obstacles, was an instance that happened in a dorm on the UW-Eau Claire campus when Hmong students got in trouble for playing their music too loud.
“They get called out for being too noisy,” Vue said. “When in reality all college dorm wings are loud and just the Hmong students were singled out.”
Other situations involved inappropriate notes in bathrooms and hallways about Hmong student’s actions or cooking styles. Vue points out this is a major issue considering how hard the university is recruiting these students only to have them have these experiences when they are here.
“UW-Eau Claire overall wants to be an inclusive campus, in this case Hmong students,” Vue said. “And once you have students on campus, they want to be themselves.”
In order to encourage and enable Hmong students to be themselves, the university formed the Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Fellow, or EDI. The group reports to the chancellor and works closely with students, vice chancellors, academic department and other key units. This group has worked on making consistent changes that have been beneficial according to Vue.
“Every staff [member] on campus needs to be evaluated based on their participation in EDI,” Vue said. “At the policy level, we are making it consistent for all staff to be considerate, to be trained, to be understanding.”
Vue is also working on an online training course on sexual harassment training that all staff member have to take to improve the situation across the board.
“So you have things taking place at the policy level for the whole group, but you also need to have smaller things that need to take place at the individual level, at the group level, and at the institution level to make the ‘walk the talk’ more possible.”
Although Vue’s job is to recruit and retain Southeast Asian students to come to UW-Eau Claire, he often times feels conflicted as to what he may be sending these students in to.
“I walk on both sides of the aisle,” Vue said. “If I walk on one side too much I can feel burned out, if I walk on the other side too much I am not doing my job.”
Vue said that he does his best to prepare students for the environment they are walking in to, and ask that they do their best to have a tough emotional armor. On the same token, he works very closely with campus community to have them understand that the campus climate is not necessarily the most welcoming climate.
After serving the university for nearly two decades, Vue has seen a lot of things that made him both deterred and hopeful at any given time. A lot of time, the majority is given most of the blame and often times put at fault Vue said. When in reality, both the majority and minority are responsible for implementing change.
“Unless you are able to say that we are both at the same level in making the change for the better, one person will feel they are being blamed, learning won’t take place, progress won’t be made.”
According to Vue, always pointing out the problem will not get the university and their students very far, rather we all must recognize the role we play and how we can improve.
“Before you point fingers, before you begin to deconstruct things, you really need to understand how you fit in,” Vue said. “It’s an easy thing to point fingers to promote change without offering a positive solution.”