Maria Avilaratriningtyas, a business major from Indonesia who studied at Whatcom Community College, won an honorable mention in the 2012-2013 Northwest Community College Initiative (NWCCI) program essay contest. Here she shares her experience attending the annual Students of Color Conference, which brings together over 900 students from community colleges throughout Washington state:
I never thought that perception can lead to deception, until I attended the 2013 Students of Color Conference. I came to the United States in August 2012 and have lived in Bellingham, Washington for the past eight months. Upon coming here, all I knew about the US was tidbits was from the media, Internet, television, radio, newspaper, magazine, or even stories being told by the people around me. And just like that, I consumed the whole information and believed it to be the truth. But then, those perceptions I have depicted about the life and the people of United States gradually disappeared and were replaced by my real, genuine contact with the facts and the reality I saw every day.
As a scholar from Whatcom Community College, I had the opportunity and privilege to attend the 23rd Student of Color Conference – Awakening Your Inner Scholar: Legacy, Resilience, Action. The annual Students of Color Conference (SoCC) is sponsored by the Washington State Multicultural Student Services Directors Council to bring together over 900 students from community colleges throughout the state. The conference was guided by five main themes: identity development, awareness of others, skills development, social justice and social activism, and personal development.
Before the conference weekend, I participated in an “I Am From” identity workshop designed to explore our own unique identity by exploring our past, present, and what we want to learn for ourselves in the future. In this pre-conference workshop, I also watched a TED talk of Chimamanda Adichie, a young female author from Nigeria talking about her personal life and her book “The Dangers of a Single Story”. The single story is inferences we make up about places and people based on their skin color, gender and stories reported in the media. This grounding workshop prepared me to perceive and brace myself to see the divergence of culture, race and identity in the United States. Of all the remarkable workshops, the one I felt was most eye opening was the International Identity Group workshop.
The workshop was inspirational as well as educational as we discussed real issues we faced as students of color in the United States. For example, being an international student, we were always stereotyped as rich, spoiled, good in mathematics, shy, closed minded, etc.
On the contrary, international students think Americans are highly educated, arrogant, secluded, individualistic, etc. This stereotype comes from the media’s portrayal of our differences and hinders our interactions. But not all of us are like that, not me. I sometimes feel that to a certain extent where I come from, defines who I am in some people’s eyes. But, my country does not define me. This experience has shown that the result of a single story could provoke the differences among us. So instead of just sitting down and doing nothing, I decided to become a “cultural ambassador” for my country. I believe what Americans have perceived about my country can be changed by simply enlightening them with different standpoints, distinct points of view from what they have been exposed. The reason people travel is to educate themselves about another country or people’s traditions and customs. They want to see the world from the two sides and not just from the media.
I remember the quote that Dr. Darryl Brice, SoCC keynote speaker and Sociology and Diversity and Globalism Studies instructor at Highline Community College, shared about perception and its relation to deception. “Leave people alone to compete, the best will survive and the inferior will perish”.