Higher Education Graduate Student Susan Chen is Advancing DEI Work by Putting the Individuality of Students First

Susan Chen, a first-year graduate student in the Higher Education Administration program, is committed to recognizing the individuality of students. She wants her work to help seek out the nuances.

“Oftentimes students, especially students of color, are seen as an overgeneralization or a single data point within the entire data set,” Chen said. “If we are able to find creative ways to engage with students of color, then we are able to thoughtfully curate a tailored experience to meet their needs.”

As an Asian-American woman, Chen’s ethnic identity has directly impacted her personal research interests.

“One example is the impacts of COVID-19 and the rise in Asian hate in the US, and how it has not only affected the Asian American psyche, but also pushed Asian Americans to focus on social justice issues,” she said.

Currently, Chen works as a graduate assistant at NC State’s Study Abroad Office, where she focuses on engaging with incoming exchange students and helping them create a sense of community on campus with the Pack Abroad Ambassadors. She also currently works as a graduate intern for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Career Services.

Chen believes that setting all students up for success is also important to DEI work.

“When thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion, I like to also think about access and student persistence,” Chen said. “Providing coaching, a sense of community and resources are the basic elements that any student needs because getting your degree can be intense and emotionally draining.”

This is also why Chen has a growing interest in wellness in higher education and helping students develop a routine to increase resilience in times of high stress and anxiety.

As an educator, Chen believes it’s her job to ask the hard questions and critically engage with everything in this space.

“So when thinking about DEI, I often ask myself ‘Are there barriers that we can help overcome?’, ‘Who is in the spotlight?’, ‘Who are people looking up to?’, ‘Who is utilizing the resources’, and ‘How can I be a part of the change for a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable world?’,” she said.

Chen understands that asking questions and making sure every student is seen and heard is the key to creating an environment that serves everyone.

“When students come together with their unique perspectives, they build with each other and create this synergy that is unique to their group,” she said.

For other students who are interested in learning more about social justice and anti-racist education, Chen recommends reading Dr. Beverly Tatum’s book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria. Additionally for AAPI literature, she recommends reading Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart.

Chen encourages people to seek out their own resources as well.

“Instead of relying on others to teach you about their marginalized identities, do your own research, craft thoughtful questions and ask if they are willing to talk about their identity,” she said. “Being vulnerable can be challenging, especially when it comes to their personal lives and bringing up. However, if you are at least aware of the foundations, then you can build your understanding from there.”

This story was written by doctoral student Jayla Moody.

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