Five years ago, the Asian Students Alliance (ASA) and South Asian Students Association (SASA) created #ThisIs2016, which took the internet by storm. After remembering the series five years since its conception, Cheng Xing ’23 proposed the ASA’s Affinity Group Photo Project, an iteration of #ThisIs2016, in hopes of providing a platform for members of Bowdoin affinity groups to express themselves on campus.
“[It was] a powerful black-and-white photoshoot with people holding whiteboards about microaggressions they’ve experienced and racist things that have been told to them,” Xing said in an Zoom interview with the Orient.
Xing’s love of photography inspired him to propose a photo project to the ASA board using the template from the #ThisIs2016 movement.
“I’ve been doing some surface level [photography] projects, but I haven’t done a meaningful project that came from the heart, so I felt like I wanted to do something powerful,” Xing said.
When Xing approached the ASA board about the project, he was encouraged to open it up to other affinity groups on campus.
“I think the country really is reckoning with the idea of racism, and we thought broadening this project to include all affinity groups would show that we are here for each other in solidarity,” Kevin Chi ’21, a co-president of ASA, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
When participants are given the whiteboard during the photoshoot, Xing asks them two questions: “When do you feel alienated or vulnerable because of your race and identity?” and “When do you feel supported?”
“The thing that makes me feel most alienated is when people say it makes it makes sense for me to study Asian Studies, and I take personal offense to that because it sounds like just because I’m Asian it makes sense for me to study Asian Studies,” Carey Lee ’22, a participant in the photo project, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
“I feel the most supported when people validate what I’m feeling and recognize what’s happening,” Chi said. “For example, when the Atlanta shooting happened, people sent me messages and emails acknowledging what I’m going through, what I must be feeling and reminding me that they are there for me.”
“In terms of what makes me feel supported, I think I kind of drew a blank when it came to that because I never took the time to appreciate what people have given back to me,” Lee said. “I’m surrounded by everything that discriminates me against other people, it’s hard to think of things right off the bat about when people support me.”
For Amanda Cassano ’22, a co-leader of the Native American Student Association (NASA), the answers to Xing’s questions were based on her experiences at Bowdoin.
“I immediately thought of the conversations I’ve had with people at Bowdoin about my identity as a multiracial Indigenous woman, and why some of those experiences were negative, while others were uplifting,” Cassano wrote in an email to the Orient.
For Lee, the opportunity to participate in a project similar to the #ThisIs2016 movement was very meaningful.
“I saw [#ThisIs2016] five years ago and I thought it was really inspiring and I was hoping that I could do the same thing for others,” said Lee.
Lee hopes that the photo project will continue beyond this year.
“I hope this doesn’t become like [a] once in-four-year[s] kind of project, because I think it’s very important to show your support for not just Asian Americans or Asians but every group on campus,” Lee said. “I think that should be a yearly thing.”
Xing is planning to release the photos on ASA’s website and Instagram, as well as to create physical prints to distribute around campus. He and Chi both report that they are greatly looking forward to seeing the final products displayed around campus.
“By giving individual students a highlight, we’re also creating a message that there isn’t just one way to support this huge group of students of color. We’re all just individuals who have different needs and different backgrounds,” Chi said.
“You know, everyone can hold the sign: ‘When do you feel supported?’ from kindergarten to 100, and I hope that this allows people a chance to express themselves and share their feelings,” Xing said.
Cheng Xing ’23 is a member of the Bowdoin Orient.