When thinking about doing work involving diversity, equity, and inclusion, one thinks about looking around your environment and at various dynamics — from class, history, and more — within yourself. Doing this type of work is a lot when you are the only Filipino international college student navigating through the lenses of America and also recognizing the complexities and nuances.

With the rise of Asian-American hate within the United States and the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th during the time of the pandemic, my current worldview immediately changed as I became part of a history and a society I am mostly new to. Being presented with these events, I recognized the tolls and stories that can make you feel a certain way. As an aspiring scientist, it was very unusual for me. As such, the idea of picking the Peace and Justice minor at Hope College was no doubt a decision I never regretted while focusing on the stories on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Being the only Filipino international student on campus, I was confused about how to proceed on such issues and then came along an opportunity from Ms. Ada Rios, who is a colleague I worked with on DEI and racial inclusion work at Hope. The opportunity came via the Courageous Conversations Global Foundation (CCGF). CCGF focuses on work that elevates the mission of racial consciousness through interracial healing. The foundation believes that uniting people of all races can help engage in authentic, sustained, and compelling interracial dialogue while creating safe spaces for learning, solidarity, and transformation to occur. If we are to eradicate racism, this is the hard work that must be done.

As I was applying for the program, I was very hesitant and knew the struggles and hurdles I would go through as an international student — from funding to even being allowed to participate in such a program given my status. I also saw delving into such racial equity and DEI work to be very different from what I did as a scientist, yet I was accepted and was elated to start the program. Despite all of these feelings, I read a quote from one of the founders of CCGF, Glenn Singleton, in his book, Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools. The quote helped me embrace this work to the fullest:

“I Dream I am from a clash of Color, From an idea of love, modeled for others’ perception. I see me as I am, but am hidden from others’ views. I am who I am, but a living contradiction to my peers. I see life as a blessing, a gift granted to me. Why should my tint describe me? Why should my culture degrade me? Why should the ignorance of another conjure my presence? Too many times I’ve been disappointed by the looks, By the sneers and misconceptions of the people who don’t get me, Who don’t understand why it hurts. I dream of a place of glory and freedom, Of losing the weight of oppression on my back. I dream of the enlightenment of people, Of the opening of their eyes. I dream for acceptance, And for the blessing of feeling special just once. One moment of glory . . . for the true virtue in my life. For the glimmer of freedom, and a rise in real pride.”

— Glenn E. Singleton, Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools

Being part of the CCGF’s Equity Leadership Fellows from 2021 to 2024 has impacted me by helping me realize that I have a uniqueness in me that I shouldn’t hide. Instead, I should be proud of my identity and upbringing.

Through the program, my colleagues and I received scholarships to conduct race-focused conversations on Hope College’s campus, embracing the training we have received. That training focused on how to lead and facilitate such conversations about race and racial identity, 1) recognizing that each person’s story is unique, 2) emphasizing the importance of having intention, and 3) showing concern for those around us.

I will admit that leading our first CCGF event at Hope with Ms. Rios — called “Rhythmic Stories” — was a nerve-wracking experience. But I wanted to further deepen my understanding of DEI through a racial and reconciliation perspectives. At this event, we focused on looking at race through the lens of music. Similarly, we also approached the topic of race through the lens of art the following year, in an event called “Hey Hope, let’s talk about race,” where we looked at various forms of art and how these contextualize the idea of race at Hope College. These events were collaborations with Hope College’s Center of Diversity and Inclusion, alongside the involvement of various multicultural student organizations at Hope College including the Asian Student Union (ASU), Black Student Union (BSU), Latino Student Organization (LSO), and Pan-African Student Organization (PASA).

As I held this conversation, I noticed the immediate shift within our target audience, while also recognizing how I had started to become more comfortable facilitating such conversations. For instance, our first year had participants from various identities and ethnicities, yet our second year had more of a predominantly white audience. Though my colleagues and I started to question this, I think that this is a unique part of racial equity work and DEI work. The space challenged me to see how the world is — not just being a colored Asian on Hope College’s campus — but looking intently and listening deeply to other people’s stories. This was a testament to the collaborative effort and progress of this work.

This experience reminded me of my Peace and Justice May Term class in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland during the Celtic May Term, where I interviewed people to answer my research question:

“How do our experiences of peace, justice, and trauma affect our mental health”

When I listened to people from the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland, who talk about the idea of reconciliation, and to people’s stories about “the Troubles” and the divide between Catholics and Protestants, the idea of uniting all of these stories together gives a sense of unity of purpose in further recognizing these issues at hand and focusing on coming together as people to talk about it.

Conversation Partners in Scotland

It was not easy speaking to a predominantly white audience anywhere given my upbringing, yet these experiences taught me that the work I do is worth the voices of many who need to be heard. As I facilitated my last CCGF event at Hope College — with Ms. Rios and sophomore Mr. Marco Lopez-Vargas — we thought of the theme for this year to be “Race as a ____ experience.” We asked all the MSOs to fill in this prompt and we listened to their takes on this topic.

We also used CCGF’s promotional materials in partnership with another organization called Not a Gun to focus our conversations around how whiteness affects racial minorities at Hope College. Through the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Sharda, we held such amazing conversations on how Asian-Americans feel a sense of isolation and recognition within the United States, how African communities lack important tools for accessible education, and even our individual stories as facilitators of the conversation on how we feel about this statement. Throughout the event, we recognized that the smaller audience made the conversation and the facilitation more personal and understandable as each person in the space resonated more with the stories and their nuances in relationship with the theme. 

Dr. Sharda and the Courageous Conversations Leaders

Throughout my time at Hope College, the idea of peace and justice merged with this idea of DEI and has challenged me to appreciate my unique identity as a Filipino more. Participating in these Courageous Conversations has elevated this experience further. As I pursue graduate studies, I will continue to hold these lessons and experiences in my heart and continue to be passionate about them, not just as a Filipino scientist, but as a human being. We still have a lot of work to do, but I know that staying curious, being patient, and smiling along the journey goes a long way in this challenging yet fruitful work.

“Nobody else can do the job here, anymore than we can do the job somewhere else”

-A.J. Muste

Jairus Meer (’24)

Jairus Meer graduated from Hope College this spring with a degree in biology and peace and justice studies. Jairus was inspired by his mother when he decided to add a Peace and Justice minor to his studies at Hope. Originally from Las Piñas, Philippines, Jairus looks up to his mother. “Her interests and advocacy of justice and politics back in the Philippines inspired me to pursue my interest in peace and justice studies,” he says. Jairus plans to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology and genetics, while continuing to work as a diversity, equity, and inclusion advocate.

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