For our sixth BROWN UNIVERSITY CRUSH(es!), we’re highlighting Jenny Li and Juhee Kwon, who, among other AMAZING things, co-run Brown Asian Sisters Empowered.
1. Tell us about you.
Juhee Kwon, 2014 Concentrating in Biology and Ethnic Studies
Jenny Li, 2014 Concentrating in Environmental Studies & Africana Studies
2. Fun Fact?
Juhee: I have a little brother who was born on my birthday – so he was essentially my second grade birthday present.
Also, I’m afraid of balloons. On the corner of Waterman and Thayer, Sovereign Bank always has balloons out, and I purposely walk on the other side of the street.
Jenny: My name is just Jenny, not Jennifer, because when my mom was trying to find an English name for me, she thought Jenny was easiest to pronounce.
3. How do you feel about feminism? Do you identify as a feminist?
Juhee: The word feminism has a lot of connotations that I’m not yet ready to entirely own. The history of feminism as a middle class, white movement makes me not entirely comfortable identifying with it. I have my own interpretation of what feminism is, and I don’t think it always coincides with mainstream feminism, or what I’ve found Brown feminism to be, which tends to be more sex-imposing and less race-conscious than my brand of feminism.
Jenny: My opinion of feminism has changed a lot over the years. I used to have a very similar mindset [as Juhee], but I think the problem was I never saw [a representation of] myself in feminism. But then I learned more and more about women of color in activism (and this happened even before the term feminism came around). It’s more than a word; it’s an idea. It can be really powerful but I think there are some connotations that really drag it down.
4. Who is your feminist role model?
Juhee: Ai-jen Poo, who works for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. I find that the label “activist” often comes with associations with masculinity, aggression, and violence, but I’m not any of those things. Ai-jen Poo approaches activism in a different way. Her demeanor is more relatable and empowers me and allows me to identify as an activist.
Jenny: Audre Lorde; Alice Walker. Reading their works really changed my mind on feminism and activism. They really exemplify that the personal is political.
5. Why did you decide to work in Brown Asian Sisters Empowered (BASE)? What is your favorite part?
Juhee: BASE isn’t a huge organization, it’s basically a small discussion group.
The reason I joined is because I wasn’t able to find a physical space on campus where I could talk about being an Asian American woman, where I felt comfortable sharing my identity in its entirety – it was a space for me to breathe, and as a BASE leader, I consciously try to keep the space that way.
Jenny: What’s great about BASE is that it acknowledges intersectionality of gender and ethnicity. For me, those things are not separate.
I recently read this book, Borderlands/La Frontera, that talks about how we have to live without borders – how our identities are all of these different things. I could have joined the Chinese Students Association, or something like that, but I find that my identity is not a singular thing.
My being Asian American is not just that, it’s also being an Asian American female. I think BASE acknowledges this intersection, and so for me, it’s a necessary space.
6. What other work do you do on campus?
Juhee: I’m involved in the Third World Center; I run some of their workshops. Connecting with other people of color has had the biggest impact on my Brown career. I find building solidarity between different groups to be really productive and inspiring. I was also a Woman Peer Counselor (WPC) this past year and had previously been involved in Mock Trial.
Jenny: I’m the director of emPOWER, Brown’s umbrella environmental organization. It has a great structure for coalition-building and for using what we’ve already got, which is what I’m really into. I also volunteer at the Providence Youth Student Movement, which is my home away from home. Back home, I work for Chinatown Youth Initiatives which is a totally youth-run organization, like PrYSM. I love working with youth and I hope to teach some day.
7. Any advice for your freshman self, or to your younger peers?
Juhee: I don’t really believe in advice. I mean, I personally think that you can’t tell anyone anything that they have not experienced and came up with themselves – they need to learn it at their own pace. My freshman year, my roommate told me that I should join BASE, and I just told her I was too busy and didn’t go. But then later when I needed that space and the time was right, I sought it out myself.
Jenny: Here’s a mythbuster – most people think they can only go abroad in their junior year, but I left sophomore fall after my first year and it was GREAT. You avoid sophomore slump, you get to experience something totally new, and when you come back, Brown and your friends will still be here.
8. If you could be any famous artist, who would it be and why?
Jenny and Juhee: Beyoncé. Duh.
9. Do you have any must reads / must views?
Juhee: I’ve recently been interested in discussing white privilege because I grew up surrounded by it but not knowing how to engage with it. I’m trying to figure out analogies and anecdotes to help explain racial justice’s relevance to white friends. Tim Wise has this bit in White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son about how when people tell racist jokes – if it turns out that there’s somebody of color in the audience, they apologize to them, saying, “I’m sorry I offended you.” But why don’t they apologize to white people in the audience? Are they stating that white people not capable of being racially sensitive or conscious? Is the assumption that white people don’t care about racism, so therefore you can tell the joke?
I’ve also tried approaching discussions of white privilege by making myself vulnerable and going into my own life story. But I’ve found that doesn’t work too well – so I’m trying sneakier, more relatable ways.
10. Favorite classes at Brown?
Juhee: Professor Lundy Braun’s race and biology classes. There’s just so much raw student enthusiasm and energy because the class is based on student-led presentations and discussions.
Jenny: Bob Lee, who’s basically the Asian American resource center teaches The Asian American Political Movement. That class was a lot of fun to just meet people and talk about Asian American identity.
Professor Hamlin in Africana is amazing. She cares a lot about getting history right. She’s hilarious, too.
11. Add a question and tag the next person (or people) that you are inspired by!
Mariela Martinez, Le Tran, Paul Tran, Sidney Peak, Brian Kundinger
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