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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

March 4, 2009

Written by C.N.

Jim Yong Kim: First Ivy League President

As many news outlets such as the Boston Globe are reporting, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a world-renown medical anthropologist at Harvard, has just been named President of Dartmouth College, becoming the first Asian American president of an Ivy League school:

Kim, a 49-year-old expert in AIDS and tuberculosis, is internationally renowned for his groundbreaking work delivering healthcare to developing countries. . . .

[Dartmouth's Board of Trustees] . . . praised his record in heading international agencies such as Partners in Health, a nonprofit he founded with colleagues while students at Harvard Medical School, and for his ability to prod countries for funding while overseeing the World Health Organization’s first major effort to promote AIDS treatment.

Dr. Paul Farmer, a co-founder of Partners in Health who has worked with Kim for 25 years, said he expects Kim to use his new post as a bully pulpit to address the problem of medical care delivery to underserved communities, from urban America to rural Africa. . . .

His was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2003, and he was elected in 2004 to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Born in Seoul, Kim grew up in Muscatine, Iowa. His father, a dentist, taught at the University of Iowa and his mother received her doctorate in philosophy there.

Kim was valedictorian and president of his senior class, as well as quarterback for his high school football team. . . . His wife, Dr. Younsook Lim, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital, gave birth to their second son on Friday night. The couple’s oldest son, Thomas, is 8.

Dr. Kim’s appointment as Dartmouth’s new President, and his distinction as the first Asian American President of an Ivy League school, continues the recent accomplishments of Asian Americans around the country, from President Obama’s cabinet members Steven Chu, Eric Shinseki, and just-nominated Gary Locke, to Joseph Cao, the first Vietnamese American member of Congress, to Don Wakamatsu, the first Asian American professional sports head coach, to Mindy Yip, recently named an Educator of the Year.

Dartmouth College is generally known to be the most “conservative” and most predominantly White of the Ivy League schools, so picking Dr. Kim is quite interesting from that perspective. As the Boston Globe article points out, Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees was apparently most impressed by his ability to consistently raise money wherever he went, so that was most likely the primary factor in hiring him, rather than making a social statement by hiring the first Asian American Ivy League president.

Nonetheless, it is a very significant moment for Asian Americans, especially in higher education. I think we should also note that Dr. Kim is Asian American, as opposed to Asian. As the article notes, while he was born in Korea, he grew up in Iowa and was actually quarterback for his high school football team. In other words, he is what sociologists consider part of the “1.5″ generation of Asian Americans — born overseas but raised and socialized as American. As such, Dr. Kim precisely represents the kind of American who can embrace diverse sets of cultures and be the bridge that connects the U.S. to our increasingly globalized world around us.

I congratulate Dr. Kim on this important accomplishment and wish him the best success at Dartmouth.

———————–

Update: A colleague at Dartmouth forwarded me a mass email that was apparently sent by an anonymous student or group of students at Dartmouth regarding Dr. Kim’s appointment:

This is the Generic Good Morning Message for March 3, 2009.

Yesterday came the announcement that President of the College James Wright will be eeplaced by Chinaman Kim Jim Yong. And a little bit of me died inside.

It was a complete supplies.

On July 1, yet another hard-working American’s job will be taken by an immigrant willing to work in substandard conditions at near-subsistent wage, saving half his money and sending the rest home to his village in the form of traveler’s checks. Unless “Jim Yong Kim” means “I love Freedom” in Chinese, I don’t want anything to do with him. Dartmouth is America, not Panda Garden Rice Village Restaurant.

Y’all get ready for an Asianification under the guise of diversity under the actual Malaysian-invasion leadership instituted under the guise of diversity. It’s a slippery slope we are on. I for one want Democracy and apple pie, not Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen. I know I sure as shit won’t ever be eating my Hop dubs bubs with chopsticks. I like to use my own two American hands.

As I noted in my post, Dartmouth is generally known to be the most conservative of the Ivy League schools. It is good to know that some there are working diligently to maintain that reputation — and to show the world that racial ignorance and prejudice can exist in a “world class” institution of higher education.

———————–

Update #2: My colleague at Dartmouth has forwarded me the apology of the student who wrote the offensive email:

I would like to apologize to the entire Dartmouth community for the offense and harm that I caused by writing the Generic Good Morning Message listserv on Tuesday morning. I was the anonymous GGMM intern cited in the D as “Lozar Theofilactidis,” and the words were all mine.

I understand that the message I wrote was very hurtful and insensitive. I know that no apology can make up for the pain I’ve caused, but I hope that it can be a start. I also know that no matter what justification I can attempt to provide for my actions, I’ve directly harmed the College, and I’m sorry for that.

I hope you can all understand that my intent was never one of malice against the Asian community, but an extremely crass attempt at hyperbolic satire. I was initially trying to criticize what I perceived to be surprise among many at the naming of an Asian-American President-Elect, Dr. Kim. I then tried to broaden my attack to encompass all of the reactionary, xenophobic, neo-Patriotism that exists in our post 9/11 America.

I tried to create a narrator that would be viewed as ignorant, and I hoped that by removing any semblance of subtlety, this voice would not be taken seriously. I realize now that somewhere in that transformation, the specific target of my satire was lost, and all that remained on the page were my extremely racist words.

That being said, I now know that I can’t hide behind my “intent.” Intent and execution are two entirely different things. I know I hurt many people personally, and damaged the reputation of the College publicly. I deeply regret my actions and the harm I have caused. I had no right to spread a message that alienated and belittled one ethic group, particularly one to which I do not belong.

I also realize that this reaction of surprise that I perceived among some students was not racist or xenophobic at all, but rather appropriate. Come July, we will have the first Asian-American Ivy League President, proudly breaking a tradition of largely Caucasian male Presidents. I know the entire College community is very proud of this fact.

The student body’s response in defense of Dr. Kim, both privately and publicly, has been overwhelmingly positive. The D’s article yesterday, “E-mail on Kim stirs controversy,” clearly showed that my misinterpreted words do not represent Dartmouth’s actual opinions of Dr. Kim’s election. I know that my message seemed to act as a flagship of student opinion outside of Hanover, and I apologize for giving that a chance to happen.

I have started, along with the rest of the GGMM staff, to try to find ways that the whole community can learn from this experience. We are meeting with OPAL and the Pan-Asian Council to try to find a constructive strategy moving forward. Among the comedy groups at Dartmouth, I hope we can find a way to try to prevent offensive lines in satire from being crossed again, as they have been in the past. I hope that my incendiary message at least provoked some discussion about race and inclusively on campus, but I am ashamed that it required so much offense and hurt for this to happen.

I know I can never take back what I wrote. I am sorry if I hurt you personally, and I am sorry for affecting the College in such a negative way. If you would like to speak to me individually about this, I would love to do so. Perhaps at the beginning of next term, after finals, would be the best time. I promise you I am going to learn as much as I can from this mistake.

Sincerely,
Tommy Brothers
Class of 2011

From reading his apology, it sounds like Mr. Brothers is sincerely and genuinely sorry for his actions and I certainly hope that is the case. Nonetheless, I still think that he and others like him at Dartmouth and around the country still believe some of the sentiments that were expressed about the email, especially about Americans losing their jobs to “foreigners.”

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, when people to feel economically unstable and threatened, in most cases, one of their first reactions is to lash out at those who they perceive to be benefiting at their expense. And inevitably, that scapegoat is usually a person of color.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Jim Yong Kim: First Ivy League President" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2009/03/jim-yong-kim-first-ivy-league-president/> ().

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