The cold didn’t stop three students from standing in the Diag all day Monday with a wooden cutout of an elephant to advocate for Asian-American inclusion on campus.
LSA senior Brendan Wu, Engineering senior Sean Liu and Business senior Jennifer Liu created the event, which they called Project Elephant, in response to the last week’s University-wide Diversity Summit.
Sean Liu, who is co-chair of the University's United Asian American Organization, said the demonstration’s name stems from the common idiom of the “elephant in the room” — meaning an important and potentially awkward topic that is clearly apparent to all, but not discussed.
“We felt like elephants in the room where we were invited to the party, but not active participants,” Sean said. “There are issues, there are voices, there are people that are being left out and they are elephants in the room, and we want to talk about them.”
While attending events related to the summit, the three students said they felt as though Asian-American voices were excluded from the conversations about diversity on campus, prompting the Diag demonstration.
“We felt like we were not included in the discourse and presentations of the Summit,” Wu said. “In some instances, we were actively ignored. Our role and existence in society was really, really downplayed or left out completely.”
According to the fall 2015 enrollment report from the Office of the Registrar, Asian students account for 11.2 percent of the University student body.
Sean Liu said when they asked questions at panel events, their questions, on issues such as how to help reduce discrimination toward Asian Americans on campus and make the University a more inclusive environment went unanswered.
“We feel that these are large topics that are not being addressed and are being overlooked. You can argue that the administration is unaware of these issues, but even when Brendan, Jenn and I brought up these issues, they seemed dumbfounded and even glanced over it,” he said.
Wu said he hopes the conversation from Project Elephant will prompt others to think about diversity on campus.
“By expressing this, we’re hoping that people will at the very least think a little bit more about how they conceptualize diversity and inclusion and if they have felt excluded from certain areas in the past, maybe this will make them more comfortable sharing.”
Echoing Wu, Sean Liu said he hoped this event will catalyze future conversation on a broader scale.
“I plan to personally try to use this, and use the Diversity Summit, and use some of these issues that we’ve talked about today as conversation starters both within our community and bridge other communities,” he said. “We believe that these issues of inclusion don’t only apply to us, they apply to everyone, all students of color, and these underrepresented groups.”