Jessica Elmore, associate director of diversity programs for the K-State Alumni Association, moderated a panel of alumni on Oct. 4. The panel, “Alumni Voices — Living in Two Worlds: Assumptions and Social Capital” featured five alumni of various racial and ethnic backgrounds who are part of Kansas State’s Alumni Association Multicultural Alumni Council.
The panel was held as an event to promote learning and inclusivity in conjunction with the K-State Book Network Common Read, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. The novel follows Starr, a teenage girl who witness the shooting of her best friend at the hands of a police officer.
Members of the panel discussed assimilation, assumptions and social capital.
“A majority of my life has been about making other people comfortable,” AbdulRasak Yahaya, a 2008 K-State graduate, said.
Yahaya spoke about his experience of feeling the need to assimilate into a community.
“My name, AbdulRasak Yahaya, is an Islamic name — I am from Nigeria,” he said. “But in different circles and spaces I get different reactions — even in the African American community. Putting your whole name on your resume and [not knowing] if your resume would even get past the door because of the background [of your name]. After 9/11, it was very challenging for me, having an Islamic name and not being Islamic.”
Each of the panel members expressed their own experience with certain themes that are discussed in The Hate U Give. Kelly Jones, a 2003 graduate, talked about her decision to resist assimilating.
“For me, this would be around making the decision to wear my natural hair,” Jones said. “It was a personal, outside of work decision, however, I guess I never really thought of the impact it would have on a professional setting.”
The members each reflected on how their background and race shaped their interactions. Mako Miller, a 2004 graduate, spoke about how she feels other perceive her.
“I’m biracial — I’m half black and half Japanese.” Miller said. “My name is Mako, which is Japanese, so my mother named me. I think a lot of times, when I’m speaking or doing a presentation, I introduce myself and immediately people will just start wondering, ‘Where is she from?’ With my name and the way I look, it’s kind of ambiguous and I just see the wheels start turning.”
In “The Hate U Give,” the protagonist deals with trying to avoid assumptions from other people. The members discussed their experiences with assumptions in their everyday lives.
“There’s an assumption in the book but it kind of gets crossed out, the ‘Asians eat cats and dogs’ assumption,” Jackie Huynh, a 2018 graduate, said. “That is not true. Not at all, but when I was younger in elementary school, students would come up to me and say, ‘Does your family eat dogs?'”
Much of the conversation centered around how race and circumstances can affect the social capital a person retains. Social capital can be thought of as the tools, advantages and networking a person has in their community.
Edgar Ramirez, a 2004 graduate, discussed times when he felt he had a low social capital.
“Mine was a low social capital.” he said. “I moved here from Mexico when I was in fourth grade and learning the language was a difficult task … I didn’t really fit in.”
Other events will be held this semester in conjunction with the KSBN common read, and author Angie Thomas will be speaking on campus on Feb. 15. More information about KSBN events can be found on their website, www.k-state.edu/ksbn/events.
Editor’s note: The cutline for the photo in a previous version of this article misidentified the speaker in the photo. The speaker is Tara Coleman, associate professor at Hale Library, not Jessica Elmore. The article has also been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Jackie Huynh’s name. It is Huynh, not Huymh.