Friday, May 8, 2015

There's a Place for Us

[I revised this piece quite a bit and it is published at EdContexts:]

In late 1999, I relocated to the USA and have had much adventure navigating cross-cultural zones of change. As a Singaporean Chinese, I am often perceived as someone from the Republic of China, which is not a problem or a bad thing at all. It is when I am expected to exhibit behaviors that go along with that misperception that things get awkward and challenging. What follows are little snippets of the faux pas some people have committed in an attempt to relate to me. These illustrations highlight the fact that there is substantial work to be done in the area of education and awareness about dealing with difference.

American White Male Prof: The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was wonderful. Those Chinese girls didn't smile at all while performing. (Looks at Yin to explain why.)
Yin: *scratches head*

[Note: This is a faux pas that tends to happen because most people see me as Chinese, but I am a Singaporean. My grandparents migrated to Malaya and then to Singapore.]


American White Male: You speak such good English compared to other Chinese. How is that so?
Yin: ???

[Note: Again, this is a social blunder that happens because most people see me as a Chinese from China, but I am a Singaporean. And there is a presumption that Chinese internationals don’t speak or write good English. This is an overgeneralization. I’m always amused more than offended to see the shock on people’s faces when they read my writing or hear me speak.]

American White Male: So do you eat dog meat or cat meat?

[Note: This is a bad joke. The perception and assumption that I'm Chinese is associated with the idea that Chinese people eat strange stuff like monkey brains or dog meat. This is an overgeneralization.]

International Female Faculty Client. I interacted with her substantially at our Center's training sessions. I presented her my business card and offered to work with her. She subsequently chose to work with another Female designer (who is also White).

[Note: This is not an indictment of the faculty decision. She has her reasons for her choices. I chose to include these next three examples because I want to highlight that sometimes, we may not be aware of our unconscious decisions. In Singapore, for instance, we were a colony of Britain and at times, the colonial mentality remains and is exhibited in some behaviors. Some Singaporeans consider Caucasians to be superior to Asians and look to them for solutions to their problems. It could work the other way too; people may be intimidated by the supposedly model minority, Asians.]

Black Female Client contacts African colleague to work with her on accessibility issues after checking out our web bios. She was redirected to me.

[Note: People are comfortable with people who are more like them. It's human nature.]

White Female Client was assigned to work with me. Emailed me subsequently to say she was going to switch and work with another Female designer (who also happened to be White).

[Note: Same rationale as above.]


Invited to a large corporate firm for an interview which was then delayed for some time. At the meeting, interviewers made snide remarks about my being overqualified. I was subsequently not hired.

[Note: This happened quite frequently to me and my international friends who were selected for interviews to meet diversity requirements. Unfortunately, I think this is how people play games to beat bureaucracy.]


Diversity. Accessibility. Inclusivity. These are buzzwords in higher education. We hear them so often, I wonder if they lose their meaning for those in privileged circumstances. I think I was desensitized until I worked on my dissertation and when I first got involved with a planning committee that does work related to these buzzwords.

It is one work project that keeps me going, even on days when I feel irrelevant and wonder what all my 30 years of specialized training in Instructional Design is for. It's the Institute on Inclusive Teaching (May 18-22, 2015). When I do anything, no matter how small, for the project, I feel that I'm making a difference, and I know that what I'm doing will have a ripple effect, through time. There are real problems to solve; awareness to create; educational sessions to design and facilitate. There is a reason why I'm there, in the committee. There's a reason for all those years of education.

When I'm with the committee, I work less at making people understand the implications of diversity. I don't have to negotiate so hard at the intersections. People in the committee have been misunderstood in some way by someone (unintentionally?), have lived experiences of these issues and thus know how important it is to be inclusive and to educate people to be inclusive. I am at home in such a diverse multicultural setting like Singapore.

"If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." - Charlie Parker, musician. 
Among my committee friends, I find myself. And in turn I can help others to find themselves and not feel lost.

The Institute focuses on issues of access and equity in education, core goals of education. We touch on issues of social justice, stereotype threats, solo status, inclusive learning design, international students' acculturative stress and facilitate the transfer of these knowledge to instructors' design of courses.

At the 2009 UNESCO World Conference on Higher Ed, the OECD Secretary-General said:

“The first priority is access and equity… the second priority area is efficiency and effectiveness [and] the third area is quality and relevance.” – Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary-General. 

Access and equity, these are two priority areas that make me get up in the morning to go to work. If I don't find myself fighting for these causes anymore, I think my work will have lost a significant bout of meaning.

If you are still wondering what I'm talking about, please visit the project site at 

If you are considering applying for this Institute, hurry up, we have very very few seats left.

2015 Institute on Inclusive Teaching
2015 Institute on Inclusive Teaching 

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