“I believe we are all tested” — Lee Mun Wah [link to audio], on Honorable Evolution #6 with Marcel Tassar*
OCOM began to engage with alumni, students, faculty, and staff regarding the use of the word “Oriental” at the college more than seven years ago. Throughout that process, for us as a college community, there has never been consensus on 1) use of the word “Oriental,” or 2) options for a name change that would meet the needs and preferences of most/all of the community.
How we move forward is ours to figure out as a community. We want to encourage, and believe that as a college community, we can embrace this moment to find an affirming and mutually respectful path forward. As a community we can define that path.
Also, over the same period, a national debate involving all of the more than 50 schools in our industry has been ongoing among the membership of the Council of Colleges of Oriental Medicine (CCAOM), and at National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), and the American Society of Acupuncturists (ASA). Again, even after many industry-wide discussions, debates, and polls, no clear consensus on naming conventions has emerged that works for all organizations and the wider community.
While it is true that many of the most vocal and persistent calls for removing/replacing “Oriental” from our colleges' names, titles, and degrees have come from non-Asian allies. Many of the most ardent advocates for removing the term from our discourse are also Asian American students, faculty, and alumni of our professional colleges. This can be observed in the wider OCOM community online discourse and in the issue’s national debate.
It is also true and observable that a significant number of our foreign-born Asian and Asian American community members hold very different views. Some who identify as being from ethnicities and cultures originating in Asia, but who were born and grew up in the United States, also embrace the word “Oriental” as a point of cultural affinity. Some are confused by the debate and why it is occurring at all, or are upset that we are considering this change, as they view the term to mean “East,” a simple, shorthand pan-Asian descriptor that is viewed by some to be acceptable for general use.
The intent of the 2020 OCOM survey of students, faculty, alumni, and staff was primarily to reopen the discussion at the request of Asian American students and alumni. While non-Asian allies also advocated for change, their prompt was not the reason to reopen the debate. There remains a mix of perspectives on changing the name, changing the narrative.
Learning of cyberbullying of Asian-identified students advocating for use of “Oriental” in the college name prompted the President to invite all staff, faculty, and students who self-identify as being of Asian descent to a private meeting, where we hoped they could speak freely without fear of reprisal. The minority view in that meeting advocated for the removal of the term “Oriental,” although many in the group affirmed the survey results, commented on their America-born family members who encouraged the change, stating that if a change needed to happen they would find it acceptable; but primarily they were trying to understand the pressure for the change, as the associations with the word seemed so different in the U.S. than in their Asian countries of origin or from the experience of their Asian-identifying family and friends.
We are leaning into the question, “How can we as a college be responsive to multiple perspectives where feelings are so strong and seemingly in opposition?” One way OCOM can be responsive at this time is to revisit and recommit to finding ways to create safe space for in-person dialogue. This is why we are committing to seating a cross-sectional task force of stakeholders to work in tandem with outside consultation to engage in facilitated discourse on our best path forward as a college.
Reconciliation can be messy, and is not easy, and we may never all agree. As healers we believe admitting we can do this better, asking for help from others with different skills in facilitation, and re-engaging to find a better path is important to our positive movement as a community on the issue of the college name.
The courage of our students to give voice to both sides of this debate is important to acknowledge. The President approached the Board of Trustees to request the cross-sectional task force representing the diversity of opinions on the college name be established, to review the historical data and processes on campus related to this issue, and in the national debate, and make recommendations for how to move forward. That process will include inviting outside independent facilitators to our campus discussions to help assure that all who want to be heard have a safe space to express their opinions.
We will also include discussion of the college name in our next long-term strategic plan, while allowing the time we need as a community to find our path forward. We embrace the diversity of views, for our college, and seek reconciliation and a positive path forward.
We can figure this out together, as healers, and committed and caring community members. Please hold faith and keep showing up with your passion and courage....and again, in the words of Lee Mun Wah, "So you see, it is where the road ends that our path often begins.”