The Center for Diversity & Inclusion is pleased to release the My Truth Series. This series contains daily blogs and videos that will be released throughout the week of April 29, capturing the lived experiences of diverse students at Hope College.

The comments contained in the videos are those of the respective Hope College students and do not necessarily represent the views of Hope College. If you choose to comment, please follow Hope’s Virtues of Public Discourse. Comments that do not follow the Virtues of Public Discourse will be deleted.

Carole is a Class of 2024 English Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies Double Major. This exceptional senior was involved in: the Asian Student Union, Hope’s Adoptee Organization, STEP, and The Anchor.  She plans to pursue a career in community service, looking particularly at librarianship to uplift stories and create access to resources.

Introduction & Background

I am Carole Yoke-kew Chee. I’m 22 years old, my hair is black, I write with my left hand, and my name is not my own—allow me to explain. More than just a label, it’s an homage to two remarkable women in my family: my aunt Carole on my mom’s side and my great-aunt Chan Yoke-Kew on my dad’s. As a Chinese-Korean transnational adoptee, my name—how I’ve been addressed and who those titles connect me to—has undergone many layered transformations, some of which I may be unaware. My earliest known name is 维维, which, joined with the last name of the Dangyang orphanage director, sits on my adoption paperwork. Chosen as a placeholder, it sat for months in anticipation of something new. 

When I joined my adoptive family—my dad Kock Seng, mom Joan, and older sister Jessica—in Boston, I didn’t know that our move to my dad’s home country of Malaysia would grant me a foundational understanding of multicultural and global perspectives. I didn’t know that a homeschooling curriculum would provide access to a large library of books for my ever-curious mind to explore. I didn’t know that an upbringing on a farm would create deep-set work ethics in my sister and me, that a devastating diagnosis for my dad would mean uprooting our entire lives (cat and all) with a move back to America in the middle of eighth grade, or that a community of kind and loving friends would form around me wherever I went in transformational ways. The older I get, the more I realize that we can’t know or expect anything in our lives, but I’ve welcomed, suffered, smiled, cried, laughed, and celebrated my way through what has been thrown at me—in large part because of the people who have supported me the entire time. One of the prompts for this blog was to write about the challenges I’ve experienced, but I don’t think I can write about those separately from the privileges and joys with which every tough time is so innately intertwined. 

Photo by Luong Tran

What else do you need to know about me? I consider myself a Third Culture Kid (TCK), I’m a proud woman of color, and my favorite color used to be blue—but is slowly morphing into green. I am able-bodied, neurotypical, and incredibly privileged in so many ways. Last night, one of my housemates asked me what my “weird obsession” was, and I didn’t know how to answer her. I’ve always been the kind of person to be interested in everything—after all, one of my StrengthsQuest results is Input (sponsored/not sponsored by the Boerigter Center)—so picking just one as a representation of myself seemed impossible. I had the same problem when choosing my major, the process of which resulted in a double major (English Literature and Women’s & Gender Studies) because I’m indecisive like that. What I’ve settled on today, though, is less of a weird obsession and more of a necessary driving point that informs all of the work I do: I am forever and constantly obsessed with the power of stories—in any shape and form, from poems to theatre to a good old conversation—to create empathy and foster real understanding. All I ask from you, then, is to read and listen to my story. Do so with all your personal fears, aspirations, biases, and truths laid bare. Recognize them, question them, and question my own motivations—everything I am writing down comes from my own perspective, which has been shaped by so many but speaks only for me. 

Time at Hope & Gratitudes

As I write this brief background, to give you some vital context and to hopefully engage in some way with your own truth, I’m sitting at the research desk at Van Wylen library on a slow Saturday morning. I’m checking on election applications for the Asian Student Union, thinking ahead to events with Hope’s Adoptee Organization, grading some work for the English and Women’s & Gender Studies courses I serve as a T.A. for, and fielding emails for my internship at Resilience. Earlier, I met with a dear friend over coffee at our very own Haworth Biggby to chat about our time with the Phelps Scholars Program, the evolution of the Step2Success pre-orientation program, and our priceless study abroad semesters. These key undergraduate experiences, among others, have all pushed, supported, infuriated, inspired, and enriched my life, and that’s what this blog and video series is all about. I could write for too long about the specific positions and responsibilities I’ve held in these organizations and departments, the projects I’ve worked on, or the way they fit into my resume, but what I’d rather do in this moment is discuss the formational truths each experience has given me. I have more gratitude for these than I can fit into this one blog, but there are so many names that deserve to be shouted from across the street with glee, so please excuse this vital rundown. 

The very first department besides Admissions that I interacted with at Hope was the Center for Diversity & Inclusion (CDI); when my parents drove me to Holland, we immediately checked in with Mikayla and Adil, that year’s Step2Success coordinators. Trepidant and introverted (which I’ll point out does not simply mean shy), I had no idea that the same icebreakers and group activities—with so many of the students I would soon call my community—would be my job to orchestrate two years later. S2S showed me that there was a place for minoritized students on campus to not just attend class, but also engage with each other, lift each other up, and lead in bold and caring manners—despite the necessarily strict COVID-19 protections that kept us 6 feet away from each other as we bonded. The privilege to pass that same impactful recognition down, with the support of my co-coordinator Amadu and the entire CDI team (Jevon Willis, Margo Walters, and Dina Matchinsky) during the summer of 2022 is one I will never take lightly. Similarly, Hope College can never take for granted that students will believe they belong on campus. We need to yell it from the rooftops, show them boldly how a PWI with a long history of oppression can commit to prioritizing minoritized community members, and carve out places for them to be heard, listened to, and empowered. 

Phelps Scholars is a program that does so well; to the PSP staff my freshman year—Kasey, Michael, Nancy, and Jordan—your programming and intentionality made the 2020-21 school year liveable through a global pandemic and intense social tensions, but also so enjoyable and challenging in the best ways. Through our shared classes, our cohort navigated the balance of deeply empathetic listening and healthy disagreement, highlighting the importance of diverse perspectives and lived experience. To my Scott Hall wingmates, eventual roommates, and closest friends—Rachel, Elisabeth, Leah, and Lili—you have my unending gratitude and love for the way we fill each other’s cups and live out our lives together. To Kaniya, for bringing us together through your stellar RAship: you are endlessly inspiring! Every kind smile and supporting word made a difference. 

A love letter to ASU: you have my heart forever. Ali and Susan and Sunny, for showing me how to lead well by embracing your strength and practicing generosity when it came to community. Luong, Jairus, Kayla, Irene, Grace, Rachel, Casi, Lina, and Sophie—you are the light of ASU! Your dedication and love have enriched my years on the ASU e-board and I learn something new each time we meet. All of you show me what it means to be part of the Asian, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Ispander (AANHPI) community and how to lift up our identities in spaces that seek to render us invisible. I have great trust that all future ASU e-boards will continue to wrestle with this. 

I can’t fit everyone in here, but some final thank yous and lessons learned: 

  • To the Anchor team that taught me how to uplift stories by entering them into our own lives
  • To the Theatre Dept. who showed me how stories brought to life—through all mediums—can hit one’s core
  • To Hope’s Adoptee Organization, who I love with my whole heart and will cheer on wildly as it enters its third year in existence
  • To STEP, for training me to be a better advocate, person, and bystander
  • To the English and WGS departments—faculty and students alike—for challenging me in the best ways
  • To Van Wylen Library, for inspiring me to pursue the fight for equitable access to knowledge, our stories, and liberation
  • To the Fried Center for Global Engagement, for fostering a strong international and TCK community, and for for enabling me to spend a precious semester abroad
  • To Resilience, for showing me how prevention work is vital to empowering survivors and changing worldviews here in West Michigan

In my First Year Seminar Liberal Arts Reflection Essay, I wrote that my ultimate goal was “to leave Hope College knowing that I have been as inquisitive and attentive as I could have been, that I have sought improvement and achieved deeper levels of empathy, and that I have become a better person… I will be content only if I have tried.” I have certainly tried, but I rest solidly in the knowledge that I have succeeded in this goal solely because of the strong and steadfast hands who have lifted me up and believed in me the entire time. So allow me one last thank you—to all my friends, family, and loved ones who have made my four years full of joy, grief, and learning possible. 

Challenges for Hope

This is not to say my undergraduate experience has been perfect; it has not. I leave Hope with immense gratitude and even greater qualms. The challenge I give to the Hope community is to learn how to foster intentional and intersectional engagement. To everyone reading, this does not mean throwing yourself into every opportunity you can find—a lesson I had to learn as my schedule became increasingly full—but finding healthy ways to push and stretch yourself. Consider how instead of pushing yourself ‘outside of your bubble,’ you could work to expand your bubble. What perspectives might you be blind to or subconsciously avoiding? How can you use your energy and resources wisely to foster growth and empathy? This prompting extends not only to individuals, but to every group on Hope’s campus. 

Hope’s departments, offices, administration, and students must find ways to collaborate on true, meaningful Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that create radical change and empowerment from the ground up—recognizing structures of power as interlocked and systemic. This takes hard work, but I know achieving unity through empathy is possible.

Carole Chee

Very often I meet people who know nothing about the Multicultural Student Organizations, CDI, Keppel House, Hope’s Adoptee Org, STEP, and so many of the structures which, to me, are an integral part of our campus life. If you’re hearing about any of these for the first time, that’s more than okay—in fact, it’s exciting! But please: now make a commitment to learn more about them. Show up to some events, sign up for a newsletter, or just reach out and share your support. Don’t assume that these are spaces that are not for you—and as a general rule, be wary of your assumptions. We can’t control how we react internally to situations, but we can gauge those reactions and see where our biases, both harmful and helpful, lie. To pull from my current favorite author and novel: “Be selfish… be brave” (Babel: An Arcane History, R. F. Kuang). Be selfish with your time, and brave with your curiosity.

Question the structures that surround you. Learn everything you can. Be kind. bell hooks, the late feminist activist and powerful author, writes that “understanding marginality as position and place of resistance is crucial for oppressed, exploited, colonized people… in that space of collective despair that one’s creativity, one’s imagination is at risk, there that one’s mind is fully colonized, there that the freedom one longs for is lost” (Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics). Where does power impact you? Privilege you? Harm you? Hooks argues that domination hurts everyone, either by blinding them to the truth of oppression or directly stepping on their necks. If every person on Hope’s campus—student, staff, and faculty alike—was required to enroll in a Phelps Scholars or Women’s & Gender Studies course, I think our culture would shift enormously in a more equitable direction. Regardless of your field of study or work, ask yourself what subjects we consider necessary, and which we consider superfluous. I challenge Hope College to readjust its curriculum to better reflect what it really means to be a part of a liberal arts institution. It hurts nobody to display inclusive signs that communicate belonging, create queer and trans inclusive spaces, incorporate antiracist behaviors, and shift our actions to foster community. Only by doing so can we achieve a liberal arts education that includes and supports a variety of perspectives. Hope’s departments, offices, administration, and students must find ways to collaborate on true, meaningful Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that create radical change and empowerment from the ground up—recognizing structures of power as interlocked and systemic. This takes hard work, but I know achieving unity through empathy is possible. It starts with a story.

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