Last week, Pomona College campus was decorated with cohorts of effervescent high school students flaunting bright white T-shirts, broad smiles, and ignited curiosity towards discovery of one of the great milestones ahead of them - college. Yes, indeed, the annual AVID conference was in full swing.
The AVID conference is one of the many programs within the Draper agenda that focuses on bringing educational awareness and college access to students in the local community. As one of the three Student Coordinators responsible for planning and hosting this event, I have been granted the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the realities of the local Los Angeles community and the purpose of my work here at Draper, namely the community engagement paradigm that my role epitomizes. One of the main hurdles I am working to overcome is my battle with privilege as a student of Pomona College. Recognizing the growing diversity of the student body and the college's commitment to inclusivity has cultivated my open-mindedness and fostered within me a stronger sense of identity and self. At the same time, however, this increased awareness has imparted onto me an irresolvable question of my role in my community, especially as an Asian American, middle-class individual. I see my daily involvement at Draper working on these various projects as a means to determine the most effective way to serve as an ally - yet, I still struggle with this seemingly noble concept of allyship. What does it mean to truly stand as an ally? How can I effectively support under-resourced communities without asserting or reinforcing a power dynamic between myself and the groups in question?
Although these ideas have always been an integral dimension of my self-understanding and identity exploration, AVID simply helped them to resurface to the forefront of my mental desktop. These critical thoughts and uncertainties arose for me while planning and organizing, but peaked during the day of the conference, where I juggled the role of event host, workshop leader, and tour guide. My workshop, which featured a panel of Quest students at Pomona who shared their experiences of being a part of the low-income, first-generation community on campus, truly pushed me to consider how I could be more than merely a panelist facilitator or event organizer. I challenged the limits of my role, yet simultaneously wondered the amount of space I should occupy. How was I to effectively guide these individuals towards a meaningful academic future without intruding on their life values as a community member who inadvertently wields power and privilege? It became difficult for me to demarcate the blurry line that distinguishes between harbinger of knowledge, which inevitably reinforces the power dynamic, and supporter of knowledge acquisition, whose intent is to dismantle the institutional inequities of educational access. These reactions, however, are not exclusive to the issue of education alone - I grapple continuously with both of these roles as an advocate for community engagement and justice across all of my community-based commitments.
With that said, I can only know one thing moving forward. Receiving affirmation from peers and mentors in feedback for the AVID conference has suggested to me that my struggles are valid. My own self-reflection has also relayed to me the progress I have made in this journey as an ally. I no longer regard the recurring doubts about my own privilege with guilt and excessive self-reproach. Now I see them as opportunities for me to continue to strive towards establishing prevalence of community engagement on campus, embodying the role of a social justice advocate, and sharing in the joys of the communities for whom I am building a better future.