Kathy Khang, speaker, activist, former director of campus access initiatives with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, and author of the book “Raising Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up,” was recently invited to speak in Chapel on Feb. 18. She is also one of the few Asian-American speakers we have ever had on campus. Her sermon text was Mark 5:21-33, the story of Jairus’s daughter and the bleeding woman. She shaped the sermon around the idea of having privilege and using such advantages to help those who are not as fortunate. She used several examples to highlight recent issues one might want to confront.
Unfortunately, a student in the audience did not take lightly to the use of one example and decided that it was an appropriate time to disturb Chapel by interrupting Ms. Khang while she spoke. Ms. Khang ignored the remarks during the talk, and the student was removed from Waco Hall. Ms. Khang was left with two more Chapel services and no assurance of her safety. Instead, questions were raised directly to her about the validity of her use of the example, which she discussed in her blog. More embarrassingly, the Baylor Young Conservatives of Texas took to Twitter, praising the student for his actions because Chapel had “neglected biblical truth” and encouraged others to join their organization. To this date, no known action has been taken against the organization.
The Coalition of Asian Students responds in two-fold. First, it responds to the student and the organization claiming his representation. Second, it responds to Baylor Student Life culture as a whole. We understand that sometimes emotions and feelings can get the best of us, especially regarding topics about which we are passionate. That being said, the way the student and the organization treated Ms. Khang is unacceptable. Capitalizing on someone’s moment of fear instead of finding a way to approach the situation through dialogue and discourse is in no way representative of a caring Christian community.
Baylor YCT, we ask you this: Do your actions support biblical truth? Is encouraging students to disrupt Chapel guests, particularly picking on one who is a woman of Asian descent, your version of biblical truth? Perhaps you have forgotten what Jesus taught and did. We enjoyed reading your tweet because it showed that you missed the point. It wasn’t a racially charged Chapel session. She actually discussed and referenced the Bible more than a lot of speakers.
You may think the Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities are weak and mind our own business. Maybe that is why you decided to pick on one of the few Asian-American speakers we have ever had on campus. Perhaps you chose to pick on her because she was a woman. The generic stereotype of the quiet Asian woman may be something you were banking on. Well, we are here to tell you that you are sorely mistaken if you believe this community isn’t strong and willing to stand up to such actions. We are the second largest minority group on campus and we stand together. There are approximately 1,300 of us here, and our goal is to provide people a place that can feel like home. Our goal is to help educate fellow students and faculty on the AAPI culture. We are here, and we belong.
There is a clear message that was attempted to be made: Speakers of color are not welcome here unless they support your exact opinions, worldview or experiences. Whether or not that is the intent of the message, that is the impact felt by other student organizations on campus. There is a time and a place for such deliberative discussions to occur. Baylor hosts public deliberation forums and Neighbor Nights that help to foster discussions on controversial topics. We should be able to disagree, but you discounted your fellow students’ ability to listen and think critically and tried to shut down the authority of a woman of color to speak to us in that space. As she has publicly addressed her concerns for safety, we refuse to allow your actions to interfere with our chances of bringing more speakers that represent our diversity to Baylor, and that is about your actions as well as the environment of our campus as a whole.
We now look at Baylor Student Life, specifically the Chapel staff who instead of thinking about what Ms. Khang just went through, they questioned her use of the story even though its purpose was to generate thought-provoking discussion rather than serve as evidence in a debate. If she really wanted to talk about the example in detail, she could have spent her time speaking about the case, but that was not the point. To the staff at Baylor, I think that is what it comes down to, missing the point. Maybe the message isn’t clear enough to you because you never had to experience what it was like being a person of color in a predominantly white institution: a place where most of the faculty and students do not look anything like you, a place that can feel very lonely and even bullyish in some scenarios.
In a recent study done by the university, Asian students at Baylor scored the lowest among all minority students (already scoring low in general) on inclusion and a sense of belonging on campus. We even had a seminar discussion about why this is so and ways that this can be improved; yet, even for that seminar, only one Student Life administrator came. This attitude of not caring shines brightly to potential students that are interested in attending this university. There is no point in boasting about “our lights shining bright” when the lights in our own community are being put out by fellow students.
Perhaps it is time for the university to take us seriously. We hold many events on campus reaching hundreds, if not thousands, of students on campus and off campus. We host cultural events (Autumn Moon Festival or Gateway to India, for example) that bring in hundreds of students from outside of the university. We host luncheons, dinners and speakers consistently at different times of the day and year. We do all these things and more, and yet we get very little recognition or support from the university.
Baylor University, we see that you are turning a blind eye to these occurrences and moving on as if nothing has happened. I wonder if an Asian student called out a local, white, male speaker in Chapel, you would have dealt with it differently. Perhaps you would have told the speaker not to worry as the student has been removed and forced to drop the class due to their actions. Perhaps you would have given encouragement to the speaker since they still had two more sessions left. Perhaps you would have upped security, come out with a statement, an apology. Instead, you gave Ms. Khang nothing — no support, no reassurance. And instead of being a welcoming host, you sent her home to Chicago where she would hold her emotions until she got home to an actual safe place, discouraged that our “Christian university” would act with a lack of sympathy and understanding. If you think that we will forget this, you are wrong.
We urge you to look at this with the same lens you look at all racially biased cases. If you think this isn’t racially charged, you are equally at fault in this scenario. Asians may be known not to fight back, to be the “model minority,” or to be the quiet ones. Well, you are sadly mistaken. We will not sit here and be bullied any longer. We will not be bullied by student organizations that believe they have more rights than we do. We will raise our voices, and this will not be the last time you hear from us.
When Kathy Khang was here in the fall, most of our administration missed out on a chance to hear from her, and in the student session, it was again primarily AAPI students. But from her book she taught us: People on the margins and in the intersections need to see themselves and their stories in the conversation, but they also need to learn to tell those stories.
We are learning. We are raising our voices. We are Baylor.
Baylor Coalition of Asian Students
alpha Kappa Delta Phi, Asian Student Association, Filipino Student Association, Indian Subcontinent Student Association, Japanese Student Association, Korean Student Association, Lambda Phi Epsilon, Vietnamese Student Association