BIPOC voices matter

June 20, 2021

Fans of the popular Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and Netflix series Kim’s Convenience were saddened with the news that Season Five would be its final one. Kim’s is a show set in Toronto that centers on the lives of a Korean Canadian family who owns a convenience store. Last week one of the stars of the show broke her silence regarding racist and sexist tropes in some scenes in Season Five. Jean Yoon, who played Mrs. Kim, tweeted on June 6, “the lack of Asian female, especially Korean writers in the writers’ room of Kims made my life VERY DIFFICULT & the experience of working on the show painful.” This tweet underscores the need for storytellers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) working and creating in various media and platforms. Calvin University can be a place to nurture this storytelling among BIPOC students.

I have a vision for Calvin that includes seeing the institution as a bastion for developing BIPOC storytellers whether they write history, poetry, screenplays, or novels.”

When I walk through the halls of Hiemenga I perform a ritual. It is customary for departments to post the pictures of their majors on the walls. Other than noting who I have taught, I also note how many students of color are majoring in or minoring in disciplines in the Humanities. We have a few in History. There are more in the languages. Across the board, the vast majority of BIPOC students decide to major in disciplines other than in the Humanities. For me, this is troubling. I know of BIPOC students who love reading good literature, especially when they find themselves in the narratives. I know of BIPOC students who write well with pathos and empathy. But they have decided to earn degrees in other disciplines, leaving the Humanities to others. 

The paucity of BIPOC students majoring in the Humanities may have to do with the general decline in students majoring in the Humanities. Scholars and writers have linked the financial decline of 2008 as partially causal of the decline in majors in the Humanities. In a 2018 article in The Atlantic, historian Benjamin Schmidt stated that every field in the humanities has lost majors since 2008 and had yet to recover. Linguistics is the lone exception. According to Schmidt, students have fled the Humanities, perceiving a lack of jobs for Humanities majors. For Schmidt they are wrong in this. The data fails to support that STEM majors find jobs more readily than Humanities majors. My concern is not whether a student can land a job with a Humanities degree. For me, it is about the sharing of critical voices through several platforms. Creatives will create platforms to amplify their voices regardless. I would love to see BIPOC voices trained in the Humanities utilize existing media or create new ones to storytell. BIPOC stories matter as they complicate the standard American narrative while combating racism and promoting anti-racism. 

I have a vision for Calvin that includes seeing the institution as a bastion for developing BIPOC storytellers whether they write history, poetry, screenplays, or novels. Last week I read Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High.  Acevedo self-identifies as Afro-Latina. She earned degrees in the arts and the humanities. Her works center on characters who are young Afro-Latinas navigating competing cultural expectations and personal aspirations. Near the end of With the Fire on High, Emoni, the protagonist, articulated some thoughts I believe encapsulate the value of a degree in the Humanities for BIPOC students: “And like a map I’ve been following without knowing the exact destination, I know now I’ve been equipping myself with tools from the journey to help me survive when I arrive.” 

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