Pomona College Hears Call From Asians for More Ethnic Programs : Minorities: Campus officials meet with students, professors after staging of ‘The Mikado’ spurs latest in series of protests for cultural recognition.
When “The Mikado,” Gilbert and Sullivan’s look at Imperial Japan, came to the Claremont Colleges recently, it drew protests from scores of students and faculty members who considered it an example of the colleges’ insensitivity to Asian-Americans.
The show went on, but the protests didn’t go unheard.
Monday, about two weeks after the demonstrations outside the Claremont Colleges’ Bridges Auditorium, Pomona College officials met with Asian professors and students to address the needs of that campus’s largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority. Asians make up 14% of the student population of 1,350, while blacks are 5% and Latinos 12%. Two-thirds of the private campus, the largest of the Claremont Colleges’ six schools, is white.
However, Asians are far behind blacks and Latinos when it comes to special services and programs--a discrepancy campus officials said they intend to correct. Although the Claremont Colleges have offered courses in African-American and Chicano history since the early 1970s and have professional counseling centers for black and Latino students, no such programs exist for Asian-Americans.
“There is a problem on campus that Asian-Americans are not feeling adequately recognized,” said Associate Dean Elizabeth Crighton, who met with several Asian professors and student leaders Monday evening. “ ‘The Mikado’ was a symptom of that.”
Pomona College history professor Sam Yamashita, one of the “Mikado” protesters, contended that the operetta promotes Asian stereotypes, through portrayals of “submissive . . . mindless” females and use of “racist” language. He argued that it should not have been performed on campus.
The Nov. 2 demonstration was the latest in a series of Claremont Colleges protests in the past several years, in which students and faculty members staged rallies, wrote letters to deans, and even wore yellow armbands at graduation ceremonies to demand courses in Asian-American history, counselors for Asian-American students, and more Asian faculty members.
Crighton said the college is considering the demands but she expects change to come gradually.
However, Yamashita and Dorinne Kondo, another professor lobbying for the new programs, said the slow pace of change is causing students to suffer.
Tammy Ho, a senior at Pomona who coordinates The Re-View, an Asian women’s publication, said college counselors have been insensitive to Asian-Americans.
“I was having problems with my parents,” she said. “The counselor said, ‘If your parents are such a problem, why don’t you move out? Stand up to your father and tell him off.’ ”
Ho said the counselor’s response indicated a lack of knowledge about traditional Chinese families. “I looked at her in disbelief. If I moved out of my parents’, I might as well declare that I’m breaking away from my family.”
Pomona officials contend that they never ignored the Asian community. Asian-American students at Pomona have become politically active only recently when compared with blacks and Latinos, said Scott Warren, acting dean of students. For years, he said, they were reluctant to view themselves as minorities with special problems and needs.
Now, there is a proliferation of Asian student organizations on campus--everything from an Asian women’s group to a club for Southeast Asians to a student publication geared toward Asian-Americans. In response, Warren said, the college has hired Asian staff members and helped set up a student-run mentor program for Asian freshmen.
“The black and Chicano centers were created largely out of concerns of student movements” in the late 1960s, Warren said. “The consciousness of Asian-American students as a minority with particular common interests and needs is relatively recent compared to the civil rights movements of the 1960s. It’s a matter of historical development.”