Approaching Social Justice as an International Student

Tianyu Fang, Senior Editor

Coming to America as an international student gave me a new set of identities. For the first time, I became foreign; I became an immigrant; I became part of the non-white minority. Most importantly, I became Asian—a Western construct created to categorize vastly different cultures into one imaginary collective.

These identities, as they brought me into the American experience, made me ponder injustices in my new community that I had not considered before. I remember when I struggled to form my opinions on affirmative action and meritocracy on my first MLK Day; I remember when I first heard the phrase affinity group. 

Social justice in America bears different meanings than back home. Though much of the current and historical systematic oppression is global and transnational, ideas surrounding social justice in the U.S. are often peculiar to its national context, which I had little understanding of at the time. Now, as a senior, I’d like to share a few suggestions with my fellow international students.

Rather than fixating on individual cases of injustice, think about how our institution creates oppression. To better observe and mitigate inequalities around us, we have to look to history to contextualize the treatment and exploitation of marginalized groups in America. (A white person wearing traditional Chinese clothes may not raise a red flag in China, for example, but it could be seen as cultural appropriation by Asian Americans due to the history of being caricatured by mainstream culture.) Such context will help us navigate the connotations of words and deeds that reflect past injustices.

Understand our own privileged backgrounds. Our socioeconomic status often blinds us to the struggles of others—not only those at Governor’s and in America, but also back in our home countries. Our campus offers opportunities—ADL meetings, SWAGA events, MLK Day programs, English classes, and casual conversations in the dorm—to hear our peers’ perspectives. It is important to take advantage of these platforms with empathy and humility in mind as we think about our own social responsibilities on campus and beyond.

Get involved; don’t be an onlooker. It may not be easy to reach out to a faculty member to address our concerns, but there are people—friends, ADL peer trainers, peer advisors—to whom we can reach out. Only by expressing our voices can others understand our experiences and perspectives.