The Story Behind It
From founder Anna Tran
All my life, especially coming from the deep south, I have struggled to find my voice in the Asian community. My family has always wanted to keep me safe and in the better parts of town, so I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, did all my out of school activities in a predominantly white area, and had my education in a predominantly white school. Especially at my school, Asians were the outlier, they were the people to be singled out. Something I had noticed was that often times, the racism shown towards me and the Asian community was brushed off or labeled as a "joke," that "we shouldn't be so sensitive," and that Asian racism is actually considered "funny." Racism towards Asians is simply not taken as seriously as racism towards other races. In order to survive at that school, I wasn't proud of it, but it felt as if I had to put my Asian identity into a safe and throw away the key. My race, culture, and background were constantly pinpointed, mocked, and devalued.
Back in middle school, I attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School. Predominantly white wealthy students dominated the halls. In classes, controversial topics that included race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic rankings were hushed and if there was an issue, the school put it under wraps. Those who didn't fall in the white, affluent, or popular category were mocked and singled out. Being one of the very few Asian students in the school, I felt compelled and pressured to conform to their standards. I endured several racial incidents targetting me on a daily basis. And for what? Because I wasn't the "norm"? Because everyone seemed to find racism so amusing? At one point, I decided that enough is enough. It wasn’t about getting back at the people who had belittled and shut me down. I needed to affirm and find pride in myself.
After that moment, I saw my Asian features, my drive for excellence, and my passion in identity and writing in an entirely new light. Why would I let the words of pathetic middle school bullies dim my light? I had to learn not to give more attention to bullies than I do my ambition, drive, and my desire to treat others with respect and dignity. This approach opened doors I couldn’t have imagined. I now attend one of the top schools in our country, and I have found a home at Phillips Exeter Academy. Ironically, I think back on the bullying experiences with a sense of gratitude. The experience forced me to define my own path, independent of those who may doubt or ridicule me. I’ve developed a fortitude and optimism in the face of struggles that I will share with others who experience bullying. A better and stronger self awaits anyone who dares to love themselves.
Coming to Phillips Exeter Academy, it was a diverse campus filled with students of all races, genders, sexualities, and more. With this fresh start and opportunity, I could pour out all the ideas that I had repressed relating to my Asian heritage. I wanted to be able to allow other students to view other’s work and to display their own stories in a way where they can feel proud of who they are and what they come from.
At Exeter, I no longer felt like I had to hide my Asian part of myself or constantly transform and adjust in spaces where I would not otherwise be accepted. I stepped up to the challenge in this new environment. I took advantage of all opportunities to embrace aspects of my identity I had previously buried. I attended Asian conferences, applied and was accepted to be a part of the Asian Advisory Board which heads and is in charge of orchestrating major Asian events on campus. I founded and became head of the Vietnamese Society. I wanted to have a home, a community where I could embrace other cultures, but also my own. This experience and shift set a standard for the kind of diversity and inclusion I hope to experience as a leader who believes no one should ever feel like an outlier.
I have always had a passion for writing and literature. To be able to portray my own ideas, thoughts, and work in a way that I, as well as others, find beautiful is everything to me. To enhance the morale of Asian youth and the young women across the globe through works of literature and art, I created SeeingMyselfWriting, a website that provides resources and exposes our young females and Asian Americans to the works of both their peers and others around their age but also successful Asian Americans and women in the industry.
Soon, it will be my time to go out into the real world. When that time comes, I will no longer hide behind anyone’s limitations. I will no longer shrink in embarrassment when I am berated for my race, my religion, my identity. Through the support of a supportive and inclusive environment that encourages students to take risks as we build lasting, personal relationships, I am made more ready for the real world with each new connection.