to Essaysto Podcasts

Published: August 14, 2020

Reflections on the Boundaries Podcast Series

Jessica Jie Zhou
‍M.Arch I 2022

For the past three weeks, Paprika? In the Pit has released three episodes for the “Boundaries & Community” podcast series. In light of recent situations regarding the now rescinded ICE policies as well as growing international instability, the three episodes invited current international and immigrant students to talk about their understanding and thoughts on identity, community, diversity, and the architecture pedagogy. Throughout the series, there are the underlying questions: “Why is it hard for us to talk about these frustrations, and how can these conversations advocate for positive changes in the design discipline at YSoA?”

“Our current status is not based on anything concrete.”--Joshua Tan (M.Arch I ‘22)

To kick off the series, I had a great conversation with Joshua Tan (M.Arch I ‘22) on the general experience as well as current struggles of being an international student at YSoA. As an introductory episode, we tried to be a voice for other individuals in the international community who might not have been able to communicate their experiences and concerns. A large part of this discussion was about studio experience, especially to address the general dismissal of international voices in reviews and group work settings. Joshua noticed that it is not uncommon for professors and critics to take over the presentation of international students who have an accent, and I have long been frustrated as well with the common “unwillingness” from critics to invest in a project just because the presenter has an accent. This general silencing of international inputs resulted in the constant pressure to prove one’s worth, which eventually leads to a sense of feeling “less than” and the passive acceptance of the inability to voice oneself among the international student body.

“Everybody suffers...when we are not able to bring our full authentic self and our full authentic stories and our intergenerational background to the table.”--Jen Shin (M.Arch II ‘20)

The conversation about voice and diversity continued as Limy Rocha (M.Arch I ‘20) and Jen Shin (M.E.M & M.Arch II ‘20) talked about their experiences as first and second-generation immigrants in America for the second episode of the series. It is interesting to see how much the topics overlapped with Joshua’s discussion with me, especially on the missing voice of international students in both academic and social settings—the vulnerability of the international community became especially explicit when we had to rely on our American friends to advocate for us during the recent ICE policy situation. Limy and Jen also addressed the underlying issues at YSoA in terms of the admission process and the ways diversity fails to be properly acknowledged in design studios. They shared their thoughts on studio prompts being so abstract that they fail to recognize the minority community members here at YSoA, and in this sense, diversity has become transactional, in the guise of internationality, without considering the meaning of “diversity” for the architectural discipline. “We need to shift away from the tokenization of diversity and...the international student body and ethnically diverse student body, to really stand with diverse students, and seeing, understanding, and making space for different types of knowledge to exist at YSoA.”

“As we learned to live as a foreigner, we got to understand who is not considered as ‘norm’, who is on the periphery of the society.”--Sangji Han

In the last episode, Sangji Han (M.Arch I ‘22) and Christina Zhang (M.Arch I ‘22) shared their knowledge as foreigners in America and talked about how these experiences changed their understanding in design and life. Both of them shared the feeling of powerlessness as an outsider in the United States, which is a result of not only hard-lined foreign policy but also the general negligence of individuals who work in the immigration system. Because there is a lack of recognition of the vulnerability shared among the international community, it is vital for academic institutions to actively provide extra support for their international members in the current situation. Christina and Sangji also shared their thoughts on the design discipline and how the implementation and process of research and investigation need to be reconsidered. The experience of being a foreigner made these international members of the design field more aware of the importance of listening and learning in design, rather than “doing research on Google Maps.”