Survivorship Looks Different in the Asian American Community

Samiksha

 

Samiksha Manjani is a Student Staff member at UMBC’s Women’s Center. She is a Political Science and Sociology double-major and is currently a co-facilitator of the Women’s Center’s discussion group, Women of Color Coalition.  

 

 

As a survivor of sexual violence, I have found myself re-traumatized by the recent events that have happened at UMBC. In the aftermath, I struggled to focus in my classes and could barely complete my work. Despite this, I somehow managed to get by with everyday going by in a blur. I went through the motions day-in and day-out. I was slowly sinking back into depression.

One of the most common emotional and psychological responses to sexual violence is depression (RAINN). Depression is a mood disorder which occurs when feelings of sadness and hopelessness persist for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns. It affects a person’s behavior and can disrupt their relationships. Just like many other survivors, I also struggle with depression.

During this difficult time, I was shocked that no one in my life had asked me how I was doing. None of my friends had asked me how I was handling the news, despite knowing that I’m a survivor and that I also struggle with depression. They knew about the lawsuit against UMBC too. In fact, they knew so much about it that they talked to me about their opinions on the matter. Yet, they never asked me how I was processing the news or if I was doing okay.

At first, I thought, “wow, I have really shitty friends in my life.” But I realized that this was a drastic conclusion to make considering my friends were normally compassionate. Instead, I tried to put myself in their shoes. Why would my normally compassionate friends be so inconsiderate? Had my external behavior reflected my internal suffering?

I realized that, from an outsider’s perspective, I seemed completely okay because I went to my classes and work as usual. My behavior, communication, and demeanor had basically stayed the same so nothing seemed amiss. However, this was completely contrary to how I felt internally. Inside, I felt awful. Every step I took was harder, every assignment I completed took longer, and every smile was faker. I was falling apart on the inside, yet no one around me could see it.

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At first, I thought that this was just how I expressed trauma. But after some reflection, I realized that I knew so many other Asian women dealing with depression that were also still high-functioning. I was not the only person who exhibited depressive symptomology this way, and more importantly, it had seemed that this was especially common for other Asians.

My assumption was not wrong. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (2011) found that Asian-American teenage girls have the highest rate of depression compared to any other racial, ethnic or gender group. Furthermore, the suicide rates for 15-24 year old Asian American females are 30% higher than the rates for white females of the same age (Mental Health America). Yeung and Kam (2006) found that none of the Asian patients in their study considered depressed mood as their main problem. However, more than 90% of them indicated having a depressed mood when asked to rate their symptoms on a depression rating scale.

Despite these alarming statistics, 51% of Asian Americans have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, compared to 29% of all Americans (Mental Health America). Furthermore, 21% of Asians, ages 25 or older, have attained an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.), which is significantly higher than the national average of 12% (Baum and Steele, 2017; United States Census Bureau, 2016). Lastly, the median annual household income of Asian American households is $73,060, compared to $53,600 among all U.S. households (Pew Research Center, 2017). It is important to note, however, that there is variation in educational attainment and median annual income among the different ethnic groups which makeup “Asian Americans.”

These findings made me wonder, why do Asian women express depressive symptomology so differently than other ethnic groups?

One reason could be because of the immense pressure Asians deal with to live up to the model minority stereotype. The model minority stereotype characterizes Asians by hard work, laudable family values, economic self-sufficiency, non-contentious politics, academic achievement, and entrepreneurial success (Kang, 2010). There is a lot of American cultural pressure on Asians to fit into this “intelligent and self-reliant” stereotype. Such a stereotype has dire consequences; for-example, Asian students are pressured to rise to an academic bar that keeps rising. The mental health cost of reaching an unrealistic standard is demonstrated by the statistics mentioned above.

This pressure is worsened by the fact that many Asian immigrants experience downward economic mobility upon arrival to the U.S. Most Asian immigrants are highly educated and held middle-class status in their country of origin (Lopez, Bialik, & Radford,  2018). Because of this downward shift in class status, Asian immigrants have to work their way up from the bottom of the social and economic ladder in the U.S. This is a very daunting task given that many Asian immigrants not only have to support themselves and their families in the U.S., but also relatives back home (United Nations, 2017). This leads to an immense pressure to climb up the socioeconomic ladder and become financially stable.

Both the pressure of the model minority stereotype and pressure to support family members removes any possibility for Asians Americans to display characteristic forms of depression without severe consequences. There are high costs for Asian American immigrants if they do not complete their education, capitalize on job opportunities, and/or perform at their jobs. If they do not perform, they are risking not only their survival, but the survival of relatives back home. This does not mean that people who display traditional depressive symptomatology are somehow less “able” or “motivated” if they can’t complete these tasks. It is simply that the pressure to economically succeed robs Asian Americans the ability to address mental health concerns.

Another reason could be the large stigma within the Asian community surrounding mental health illnesses and treatment. Asian Americans are 3x less likely to seek mental health services than White Americans (Nishi). Furthermore, it is taboo within the Asian community to speak about having mental health illnesses (Chu & Sue, 2011). One large reason this stigma exists is because of the concept of familial shame within Asian communities.

There is immense pressure in the Asian community to preserve the family’s reputation and status at all costs. This is reflected in popular terms used within various Asian cultures which represent the process of shame or losing face: “Haji” among Japanese, “Hiya” among Filipinos, “Mianzi” among Chinese,”Chaemyun” among Koreans, and “Sharam” among Indians (Sue, 1994). If an Asian person has a mental health illness, it could be interpreted by the community as a result of their family’s failure to raise the person correctly. Therefore, Asian Americans are unlikely to acknowledge and seek mental health treatment in fear of “bringing shame” to their families.

I think in a lot of ways all of these factors have influenced the way that I have processed the trauma of my assault and the resulting depression. Like many other Asian American women, I don’t outwardly exhibit depression through conventional symptoms. However, this doesn’t mean that I experience depression less severely than other people. On the contrary, I struggle with depression so much sometimes that it’s hard to even do basic tasks (even if I end up somehow getting it done). Because of the fact that depression is one of the most common psycho-emotional responses to sexual violence and also that the Asian community presents unique depressive symptomology, it is logical to conclude that survivorship is likely to look different in the Asian community.  

Therefore, it is extremely important for friends, family members, and mental health professionals to recognize that survivorship manifests differently in various ethnic communities. As such, the type of support given must be individualized to meet the needs of survivors of different backgrounds. To best support survivors, the people within the survivor’s inner circle should adopt a lens of cultural humility.  

The Women’s Center uses this lens of cultural humility to best support survivors of different backgrounds. Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude towards individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases. This departs from “cultural competency” in that it recognizes that a person cannot possibly know everything about other cultures. Instead, people should approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.

I truly believe that if my friends had adopted a lens of cultural humility, they would have easily picked up on my struggles. If they had understood more about Asian culture and what it means to be an Asian immigrant, they probably would have been able to recognize my signals of distress. This is especially important for mental health professionals; they would be able to pick up more details from their clients if they held the mindset that “there’s always more to learn.” Using this lens, we can better support the survivors in our lives.

**Please note that not every Asian person experiences depression this way. The goal of this blog is to highlight a common phenomenon in the Asian community. If an Asian person does not process depression or trauma this way, it is not a reflection of their Asianness, intelligence, reliability, or any other characteristics.**

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Come Check Out the Clothesline Project Display on 10/3!

The Clothesline Project display on  Wednesday, October 3, 2018 from 10 AM- 4 pm in Commons Main Street.  

The Clothesline Project is a program that started back in 1990 and has been established “to address the issue of violence against women. It is a vehicle for women affected byIMG_2185 violence to express their emotions by decorating a shirt.” Here at UMBC we do this project twice a year – in October for Relationship Violence Awareness Month and in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Survivors of sexual violence are welcome to decorate a shirt with their feelings and message. Then the shirts are anonymously hanged on a clothesline display, shoulder to shoulder in Commons Main Street “to be viewed by others as testimony to the problem of violence against [anyone].”

For the past three years that I have been part of UMBC community I have seen this project and its strong impact on the community. This is a great chance for anyone who has experienced violence to share their stories in a safe setting, and also practice self-care. Making these shirts is an act of therapy in its own way. Last semester for the first time, I made my own shirt. I shared my story with many people without putting my name out there. I was able to take a story out of my chest and feel so much lighter immediately.

As a student staff member at the Women’s Center and a Resident Assistant, I had the privilege of being involved with this project more closely. Last semester with the help of the Women’s Center and some of my Resident Assistant co-workers, we were able to hold another t-shirt-making event in the residential area. This event has happened before in the residential halls, but seeing the work in person was such a powerful experience. Seeing people coming in, making shirts, and sharing their stories shows how they trust us, which challenges us to provide the best support we can as Resident Assistants and Women’s Center community members.

I personally believe having this project on campus is a great opportunity for our UMBC community members to express their feelings about their experiences with sexual and gender-based violence.

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Shirts and supplies will be available throughout the month of October for any survivors who wish to create a shirt that tells their own story. Shirt-making for the Clothesline Project is also available year-round in the Women’s Center.

Our Discussion Groups This Fall!

Identity-Based Discussion Groups

All groups meet beginning the week of September 11th. Groups are closed for the privacy and confidentiality of the attendees and take place inside the Women’s Center lounge. Check out a detailed description of all of our discussion groups down below!

Between Women: Biweekly, Mondays at 4 pm

Women of Color Coalition: Biweekly, Tuesdays at 4 pm

We Believe You: Weekly, Thursdays at 5:30 pm

Women in STEM: Monthly, Third Fridays at noon

 

Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates Program

This program is designed to support undergraduate women over the age of 25 returning to college later in life. Students receiving a returning women student scholarship are required to participate in this program designed to support their personal, academic, and career goals of adult learners at UMBC. ALL returning women students at UMBC are invited to attend the monthly meetings and workshops designed specifically to meet the needs of adult students. You can also request an invite to join the Returning Women Students Forum on Facebook for news, resources, and community building. The scholarship deadline for 2018–19 was Friday, March 30, 2018 – next year’s application will be available beginning January 2019.

 

Between Women

Between Women is a discussion-based program that centers the experiences of women students who identify on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. This structured, topic-based program discusses sexuality and sexual orientation with a focus on intersectionality and provides a safe space for women and feminine-identified students to share their feelings and experiences with other women. This program follows the Women’s Center Brave Space model in order to create a community environment that fosters learning and critical discussion. For safety and confidentiality reasons, this is a closed meeting for those in the LGBTQAI+ community and it is not appropriate for students to use the space for class research or interviews. Fall 2018: Between Women meets biweekly on Mondays at 4pm in the Women’s Center.

 

We Believe You

Hosted in collaboration with the Women’s Center and the student organization We Believe You, this discussion group creates space to center the experiences of survivors of sexual violence. This discussion-based program follows the Women’s Center Brave Space model to provide a welcoming environment and thoughtful community to engage in conversations focused on support and healing for survivors of sexual violence. For safety and confidentiality reasons, this is a closed meeting for those who identify as survivors and their allies. It is not appropriate for students to use the space for class research or interviews. Fall 2018: We Believe You discussion group meets weekly on Thursdays at 5:30pm in the Women’s Center. For more details, join the We Believe You myUMBC page (where you can also learn more about their general body meetings and activism efforts) or connect with a Women’s Center staff member.

 

Women of Color Coalition

WoCC LogoAll self-identified women of color students, staff, and faculty are welcome to share their stories and learn about others’ experiences at Women of Color Coalition. This discussion-based program follows the Women’s Center Brave Space model to provide a welcoming environment and thoughtful community to engage in conversations focused on the intersections of gender and race. For safety and confidentiality reasons, this is a closed meeting for those who identify as women of color and it is not appropriate for students to use the space for class research or interviews. Fall 2018: Women of Color Coalition meets biweekly on Tuesdays at 4pm in the Women’s Center. Subscribe to the WoC Coalition email list to learn more!

 

Women in STEM

A discussion group for UMBC’s women in STEM. Each discussion will take place monthly and will be hosted by a different woman faculty member from the STEM disciplines focusing on a different topic related to Women in STEM. This discussion-based program follows the Women’s Center Brave Space model to provide a welcoming environment and thoughtful community to engage in conversations focused on the experiences of women students studying in the STEM fields. Fall 2018: Women in STEM discussion group will take place on Friday, September 21st at noon and Friday, October 19th at noon. The November date is TBD.

 

Spectrum: Trans Programming and Resources Hub

Spectrum SpotlightSpectrum is a programming and resource hub for UMBC community members who identify as trans, genderqueer, gender fluid, outside of the gender binary, and/or those who are questioning their gender identity. Supported by the Women’s Center and the Mosaic Center, Spectrum has evolved from a discussion-based program to an umbrella of resources, discussions, and events. Currently, the Spectrum discussion group is not being offered so we can ensure support of groups like Trans Tuesdays hosted by the LGBTQ Student Union and the Trans Support group run through the Counseling Center. The Women’s Center and Mosaic Center offers trans-related events each month. For details, connect with a staff member or check out our events page. Additional resources can be shared through our offices and we encourage community members to connect with us.

 

For more information about each of these groups and their intentions, please visit womenscenter.umbc.edu/groups

Makeup Microaggressions: Let Me Wear My Full-Face Makeup in Peace

Samiksha Manjani Student staff member, Samiksha Manjani, takes a deeper look at the impact of makeup microaggressions.

I normally hate getting ready to go out with girls; or well, I hate putting on my makeup in front of other girls. Instead, I’ll put it on in my own house and then go to my friend’s house to “get ready” aka just to put on a dress. I started to do this after having the same interaction time after time with various friends. It goes something like this:

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Me standing in front of the mirror, happily doing my sparkly silver smokey eye, tongue out (because you can never put mascara on with a closed mouth).

“Wow! your eyeshadow looks amazing!”

“Thank you!! I really like smokey eyeshadow looks.” At this point, I’m feeling super awesome about how I’m looking and my makeup when…

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t even know how to put on makeup. I just do whatever, you know. I don’t even wear makeup,” she says dismissively.

Aaaaaand there it is.

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Her comment may seem like an honest admission of not knowing how to put on makeup, but it’s not that simple; especially when I’ve gotten similar responses from other girls. If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, allow me to explain: this “compliment” implies that she is somehow better than me because she doesn’t wear or know how to put on makeup; this insinuates that I need makeup because I’m not confident enough to go without it. Simply put, if I wear makeup, I’m not naturally attractive enough.

What makes the situation worse is that, at that moment, I can feel the need to justify myself building up. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I also know that my decision to wear or not to wear makeup doesn’t make me any more or less of a woman, but instead I say,  

“Oh, yeah I mean I don’t really know how to put on makeup either. I barely wear it…”

Knowing damn well I’m lying. I didn’t watch countless MUA (“makeup artist”) Instagram and Youtube videos to act like I didn’t know how to put on makeup. Plus, my friend had the sharpest winged eye I had ever seen. How could she say she didn’t know how to put on makeup?

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Other times, especially when I’m talking to guys about makeup, they’ll say, “Oh! I like you better without makeup” or “You look better than girls who wear makeup, I don’t like girls that cake on.”

Am I supposed to say thanks?

To be clear, I’m perfectly happy with the way I look when I wear makeup and when I don’t. I don’t think my value is somehow better or worse depending on whether I wear makeup. Likewise, I don’t think I’m suddenly better than other girls because of my decision to wear or not to wear makeup. Some days I just want to sparkle (literally)!

After having the same exact encounter time after time, and being inadvertently shamed for knowing how to do my makeup… I stopped going to get ready at my girlfriends. I stopped feeling comfortable in what was supposed to be an empowering environment.

Why couldn’t I enjoy putting on a full face some days and having a fresh face on others?

It may seem really small or that I’m being overly sensitive, but that’s exactly how microaggressions make you feel. A microaggression is a negative statement directed at a subordinated group; it can be intentional or unintentional. Although microaggressions are essentially micro, their accumulated impact can be quite large (here’s a video to better explain). At the Women’s Center, we like to refer to the impact of microaggressions as a “death by a thousand cuts.” The first time you experience a microaggression, it may not get you down too much, but after hearing either the same one or similar ones so many times, it’ll get to you.

It’s not just the microaggression itself that hurt, the hurt doubled because it was coming from other women. Women that should have been allies. I couldn’t understand,

Why were women perpetuating these unrealistic dichotomies onto each other? Why couldn’t we both be great in whatever we were doing?

I realized that these microaggressions between women were essentially internalized sexism caused by heterosexist patriarchy. Under patriarchal norms, women’s value is dependent on their attractiveness to men. As feminist theorists suggest, when women internalize heterosexist patriarchy and associate their source of worth, identity, and strength with men, they’re compelled to compete with each other for the attention of men. Essentially, we turn on each other when our value is tied to men.

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However, we don’t have succumb to it.  Maybe instead of feeling intimidated by women who inspire us, we could feel empowered by them.

I recently came upon Shine Theory at the Women’s Center and think it’s a phenomenal way to reframe female competitiveness. Created by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, Shine Theory prescribes that “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her.”’ Friedman and Sow contest that “surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

When we apply Shine Theory to the makeup debacle, we can acknowledge if our friend is better at something than us, but also that it doesn’t reflect a deficit in ourselves. Maybe I did know how to do a smokey eyeshadow look when my friend didn’t, and that doesn’t mean I have to use makeup to feel more attractive. Likewise, her decision to not wear makeup doesn’t mean that she is inherently more attractive, valuable, or confident than me. Wearing makeup skillfully doesn’t add or detract value from a person. It just means you wear makeup. 

So the next time you’re around a powerful woman that you perceive is rocking something better than you, befriend them instead of feeling self-conscious.

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