AAPI Student Experiences at PLNU

On campus. Photo by Lauren O'Brien.

Anti-Asian violence in recent weeks prompted many PLNU students to speak out on social media, urging their peers to combat anti-Asian bias. Several PLNU students from the AAPI community spoke to The Point about their experiences at the university.

Kayla Wong, senior multimedia journalism major 

Growing up in Hawaii with a dominating Asian and Pacific Islander presence, I knew very little about race outside of ethnicity before moving to San Diego. Although I understood those things in a theoretical sense, being part of the majority racial group for the first 18 years of my life didn’t prepare me for the cognitive dissonance I would experience attending a predominantly white university. 

The first time I became aware of my race, I sat in my freshman psychology small group, thinking about names and majors and hometowns and hobbies. Later, a friend asked if I knew someone who had mentioned meeting me. “I think I remember,” I said, flattered and surprised someone would remember a girl who didn’t say much. But it was not my name or major or hometown or hobby they remembered — it was my race. “They said there was an Asian girl wearing winged eyeliner.” Check and check, I suppose. 

Why was I thrown off that I was described as Asian? I am Chinese and Japanese, but no one back home would ever use “Asian” to describe someone else, unless you describe the whole island. So, I sat in my second small group meeting, extremely aware of hair colors and eye shapes and last names and that the majority of our group was white. And now I was aware of race, too — of my own, of everyone else’s — and I hoped for a moment that no one else noticed my straight black hair, winged eyeliner-ed monolids and my last name like how I now did. 

Ivy Tran, senior nursing major and Asian Student Union president

Attending PLNU was a big culture shock to me because I didn’t expect to be in an environment where being the minority was so distinctive. I attended a very diverse high school, so coming to PLNU was a big adjustment with the people and culture. 

Luckily, I found a home within MOSAIC’s Asian Student Union. I mainly joined because everyone there was so welcoming, but there also was a big factor of familiarity since most of the students there came from an Asian background. Through the club, I met most of my closest friends at PLNU. I personally love the aspect of MOSAIC and embracing each and every one of the clubs involved. 

Timmy Sung, senior communication major 

When I transferred to PLNU my junior year, I was totally unaware I was about to be exposed to the experience of newness and change in ways I never expected. My high school was a dominantly white school filled with your typical snobby, stuck-up rich kids. During those years, I experienced the most racially deteriorating times in my life. I became blinded and numb to words and jokes, forgetting the significance of hurtful racist words directed toward Chinese people. Jokes about my eyes, my culture, my people’s foods — it all became a joke. After high school, I spent a lot of time alone in my first two years of junior college, which allowed me to reflect on my life, my growth and where I was headed. I also slowly became aware of the past that hurt me deeply. 

Fast forward a couple years, I am now at PLNU, with a predominantly white student body and faculty. But for the first time in a very long time, I sensed change. I became known and welcomed by people not because of jokes about my race, or by the jokes I had learned to make about myself, but instead was acknowledged, loved and befriended by people because of who I truly was. In my time at PLNU, I have never needed to question any friends’ intentions. For a change, I am accepted for who I am: Timothy Jia-En (Great Mercy) Sung. That is all.  

I know my experience is privileged compared to the experiences of other minorities on campus, but I urge my friends and peers to watch out for one another and take care of each other. Expose yourself to something new and different, and know that different is not always bad. 

Elaine Alfaro, first-year multimedia journalism major

A week before I started classes last semester, I told a professor I am writing a cookbook of Filipino recipes with my dad. They followed up and asked about my recipes and family. Now, eight months later, we talked about our pancit recipes over Zoom. In conversations like these, I feel like I belong at PLNU and my identity is celebrated. Memories of comments I got asked in high school: “What are you…You don’t look that Asian” started to fade.

In one of my classes last semester, we discussed microaggressions and internal biases. It was cool to see my peers recognize their privilege and faults. This discussion also allowed me to consider my own shortcomings. Fostering classroom conversations about racism and how to be actively anti-racist helps minority students feel supported. It is also an opportunity to educate our predominantly white student body about inherent biases. Moments like those give me hope when I feel overwhelmed by the racism and hate the AAPI community is experiencing. 

But, over the past few weeks, I felt frustrated. Despite these conversations with faculty and students, it felt like violence against AAPI citizens was not discussed in classrooms. I wonder why my professors didn’t address the hate crimes in Atlanta. Don’t they know this impacts me? I saw in the news last month that a 75-year-old Filipina woman was attacked on the trolley in San Diego. I couldn’t help but think of my lola when I saw this headline. 

I have not experienced any racist attacks or comments on PLNU’s campus, but the past few weeks, the silence was deafening. It was refreshing to receive President Brower’s email regarding the hate crimes, and it was awesome that the Asian Student Union held an event addressing anti-AAPI sentiment. However, I would love to see my professors have discussions in classrooms to ensure students feel supported. At times, I didn’t feel supported while I grappled with fear and frustration.

Rebecca Elliott, senior multimedia journalism major and editor-in-chief of The Point

Think of the classic Loma student. What do you envision? She’s probably blonde and tan, definitely wearing denim. Or he’s fresh from a surf and says “kook” too often. Whoever you envision, they’re probably white.

I recently spoke to a friend who attends college in New York but grew up in San Diego. He said he almost transferred to PLNU. I said, “You look like you belong at Loma more than I do.”

Immediately, I realized I genuinely meant that. He’s white, blonde, the beach boy poster child. But why should he belong more? He shouldn’t, but that’s what the numbers say. What’s worse, I said it too.

I’ve recognized my own ignorance — my prejudices and mindless jokes. I’m the only person of color on the editorial team at The Point, a team I picked. I wasn’t even aware of this until two months into the fall semester, and I made excuses to myself: “Most were recommendations” and “PLNU is mostly white, so what are the odds?” Every team member is talented and hard-working; I don’t regret those choices. But who was equally exceptional that I missed because they weren’t on the top of the stack? I won’t preach accountability if I can’t do it myself. It’s a lifelong commitment to learning in steps. 

For me, a next step is gathering the courage to ask one of my friends to stop calling me “exotic.” It’s meant as a compliment, but I’m not an animal at the zoo or an expensive flower at the store. I’m a human being with a life as ordinary and messy as everyone else. I want to feel I belong as much as you do.

By: Rebecca Elliott


  • Rebecca Elliott

    Rebecca is the editor-in-chief of The Point and a freelance writer. She is a senior at PLNU majoring in multimedia journalism and minoring in public relations.

About the author

Rebecca Elliott

Rebecca is the editor-in-chief of The Point and a freelance writer. She is a senior at PLNU majoring in multimedia journalism and minoring in public relations.