The Office of International Education recently made changes to both the content and concept of Asia Week following a Sept. 16 meeting between Dean of International Education Martha Merritt and several Asian student organizations on campus.

During the meeting, Merritt addressed grievances from students regarding various aspects of Asia Week, this year’s celebration of International Education Week.

One of the primary changes following the meeting was the decision to split the celebration over two years, with this year’s celebration taking place in November 2019 and focusing on East Asia, and next year’s taking place in the 2020-2021 academic year and focusing on South Asia.

At the meeting, students had voiced discontent over the idea of focusing on the continent of Asia. In past years, International Education Week has focused on a single country. In 2017, the week focused on Denmark, and in 2018, South Africa.

Sophomore Jason Cai, a member of the Asian-American Students Union, expressed his concerns prior to the meeting. 

“We realized it’s normally a country week," he said, "and now they’ve made it the entire continent of Asia in one week.”  

Grouping all these cultures together had made the mistake of generalizing them, Cai said.

Merritt explained the Office of International Education’s reasoning behind choosing Asia: The University of Richmond has a high number of faculty members who can engage with Asia when understood as a collection of countries, she said, but does not yet have a high number who can do so with any single country in Asia.

“It was a move for inclusion,” she said, “rather than a lack of recognition of diversity.”

Still, the Office of International Education listened to the students' concerns and split the celebration. Merritt said that, in retrospect, the office would have organized things differently.

In addition, students at the meeting voiced complaints about some of the names and language surrounding the events of Asia Week that had initially been proposed.

“A lot of the activities that were mentioned in the SpiderBytes were just too stereotypical from an outsider’s point of view,” said Erin Lee, sophomore and AASU member. 

Cai reiterated this point, saying that some of the event names, particularly the “Wok Walk,” struck him as inauthentic.

Merritt said the Office of International Education “had no desire to insult” students with any of Asia Week’s event names. After hearing these complaints, the office made an effort to reconfigure and rename some of the events. The “Wok Walk,” for example, has been renamed to the “Wish Walk.”

Beyond concept and content, Asian student clubs were also upset that the Office of International Education did not initially reach out to them for help planning the events of Asia Week.

Sophomore Haley Hom, also a member of AASU, said she had understood that the AASU was a new club and may have been difficult to contact. 

“Even so,” she said, “[the OIE] didn’t reach out to other organizations either that have been established in the school for a while," such as the South Asian Student Alliance and the Korean American Student Association.

Merritt explained that, in years past, the planning of International Education Week had been largely faculty-driven. 

“We’re not accustomed to going through organizations,” she said, “partly because in the past we haven’t had countries that had large student organizations here.”

She described the eventual meeting between the Office of International Education and these student clubs as constructive.

“[The students] didn’t come to us as adversaries,” Merritt said. “They told us in very straight language why they took offense at the ways in which we had both conceptualized Asia Week and the language we were using on our website.”

Following the meeting, the Office of International Education is seeking to strengthen its relationship with student organizations in years to come.

“We will consult student organizations that are focused on and interested in South Asia,” Merritt said, “starting the minute Asia Week ends this year.”

For more information on specific events during Asia Week, visit this page.

Contact news writer Alan Clancy at alan.clancy@richmond.edu.