A Call for Compassion and Understanding

Today, I am hosting a guest blog post by Robert Lydon, a first-year student at BC Law.

I cannot describe the relief I felt when I received the Dean’s email about the grading policy change. Relief because I would not have to choose between my family, my health, and my academic career. Relief because I now have the flexibility to be there for those who need me. 

I am just one of the students the administration probably had in mind when they rendered this decision. As of last week, I’ve learned that my brother, father, and brother-in-law are now unemployed after construction was shut down in Boston. They are all concerned about how they are going to pay their bills. My mother is a disabled two-time cancer survivor, and I cannot express how dangerous this illness could be for her. Despite this, she continues to help care for my grandmother, who is recovering from a recent hip fracture and is also extremely vulnerable. I live at home with my parents and am worried about their health, economic well-being, and housing security. I am far from the only one in our community affected, nor am I the most adversely affected by this global upheaval.

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Why the Pass/Fail Policy Matters

I’ll be honest. When I first read the email about the pass/fail policy this semester, I was upset. I have been working really hard this semester to boost my GPA, and I was looking forward to the chance to improve my performance during finals. I’ve been pretty anxious about this whole COVID-19 situation, and I felt like this was not the news I wanted to hear.

And then I took a deep breath and counted my blessings. After putting everything into perspective, I realized how much this pass/fail policy might mean to someone who is facing more difficulties than me right now. Throughout my time at law school, I have gotten involved in various diversity initiatives because I’m a woman of color and I know this puts me at a systemic disadvantage. I fight for these causes because they personally affect me. If I am so quick to stand up for causes that personally affect me, I should also be as committed to standing up even when my own interests might not be at stake.

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United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind: On Gaining Citizenship & Losing Identity

What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen? To give up loyalty to other countries.

I remember this very question from my parents’ civics test as part of their naturalization process. We moved here from India in 1998 on an H1-B visa, eventually became permanent residents, and then finally became citizens in 2012. I didn’t have to take the citizenship test myself since I was a minor, but I remember helping my parents study. This one question in particular made me pause and realize how significant this step was for us, ceremonially: we were officially becoming Americans now.

It’s a real privilege to become a United States citizen, and I’m not sure how many American-born people realize what immigrants give up – both physically and symbolically – and how grateful they are to become citizens. That’s why it stings when throughout history, American-ness has been conflated with whiteness, and this sentiment lingers to this very day. I’m especially reminded of this bitter truth today because February 19 marks the anniversary of a particular SCOTUS case decision that hits close to home: United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923).

Thind, an Indian Sikh man, had come to the United States in 1913. Having obtained a bachelors degree from India, he wanted to further his education at the University of California Berkeley. He enlisted in the US Army, served in WWI, and was discharged honorably in 1918. After his discharge, he applied for citizenship in Oregon state, and was granted naturalization. Yet, soon after he became naturalized, an examiner appealed the decision. Thus began the fight for citizenship that eventually reached the Supreme Court. Thind’s citizenship was challenged because of the statutes of the time. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted naturalization to ‘any free white person’ of ‘good character’ and the Naturalization Act of 1870 extended citizenship to ‘aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent.’ In the Ozawa case the previous year, a Japanese-American man petitioned for naturalization on the grounds that he was white in skin color. In that case, the Supreme Court held that ‘white’ meant Caucasian, and hence denied him from gaining citizenship. The Ozawa case is a striking example of how whiteness was used as a defining factor of someone’s worthiness to be American.

Thind, relying on the Ozawa case rationale, used anthropological texts and studies to argue that he was from North India, the original home of the Aryan conquerors, and so that meant he was of Caucasian descent. Further, he argued that as a high-caste Indian himself, he had a repugnance towards marrying a “low-caste” Indian woman. One line from his actual argument reads: “the high-caste Hindu regards the aboriginal Indian Mongoloid in the same manner as the American regards the Negro” (note that the term ‘Hindu’ at the time was used not to describe religion, but as a racial and geographical marker). Despite his assertions, the court unanimously decided against Thind, upholding that Indian people are not white and cannot become citizens. This decision was not overruled until President Truman signed the Luce-Cellar Act of 1946.

It hurts that Thind was denied citizenship because of his ethnicity, but it pains me even more that he himself tried to disown his heritage. In both the Ozawa and Thind cases, these men didn’t challenge the discriminatory nature of the racial criteria, but instead contended that they were white, too. Maybe they didn’t think it was possible to win by challenging the racist motivations behind the laws of their day, or maybe they genuinely wanted to be white in order to fully belong. Either way, this mindset of being different than other minority groups, of somehow being “more white” lingers to this day.

The model minority stereotype today paints the narrative that Asian-Americans are the paragon of immigrant success stories. It perpetuates the idea that Asians achieve higher in education, rise to higher socioeconomic statuses, and overall attain more prosperity than other groups. This blanket statement undermines the diversity inherent within Asian-American experiences. Moreover, by creating a hierarchy and placing Asians at the top, this myth furthers racial wedges between minority groups, maintaining a sense of division among people of color. It advances the same problematic sentiment present in Thind’s argument, that we Asian immigrants are somehow better; under this logic, our status is more close to that of white people, and hence, we are more American.

The Thind case reminds me that the life of an immigrant is one of sacrifice: we leave behind our homes, our families, and everything we’ve ever known. But we give all this up with hope, because we love this country and have faith in the opportunities available for us here. We take an oath to ‘defend the Constitution and laws of the United States’, to ‘do important work for the nation if needed’. We are proud Americans, too. Please, do not pit us against other minority groups or make us give up the very essence of our identities to prove it.

Roma Gujarathi is a first-year student. She loves hearing from readers: email her at roma.gujarathi@bc.edu.

What My Part-Time Job Taught Me

This semester, I worked part time as an ELL Writing Specialist with BC’s English department. I work with 5 non-native English speakers, undergraduate students who need extra linguistic support. Of course, at first, I was apprehensive about whether I’d be able to balance a job and the rigorous 1L courseload. However, as the semester comes to a close and I reflect on the past couple of months, I’m realizing how much I grew just by being a tutor. I’m really grateful for my job and I wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned this semester.

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Diary of an Introvert

Almost exactly five years ago, I remember beginning to work on my undergraduate college applications. One of my essay questions asked me to write about my favorite place. I considered this question for a while: I thought of my bedroom, my favorite study spot at school, my temple, but none of them resonated with me. After weeks of pondering, I realized that my favorite place wasn’t a physical space at all: it was inside my own head. 

Finally feeling satisfied with my topic, I wrote a draft to show my admissions counselor. She told me that my head wasn’t a real place and that the piece made me sound a bit like a recluse. She asked me to stick to a physical place, like a typical response would. I remember feeling slightly defeated and wholly misunderstood, but this wasn’t the first time. In a world that values sociability, collaboration, and action, we introverts often feel out of place.

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