Photo credit: Jeff Hong
Growing up as a refugee in a small Texas town, the only Asian in her school, Khamla Vorasane says that she has dealt with Asian stereotypes her entire life. But following the March 2021 shooting at an Atlanta spa, she found herself reflecting on the anti-Asian discrimination that led to this horrific act.
“I realized that by tolerating the stereotypes and subtle racism in my own life, by not speaking up, I was part of the problem,” says Vorasane, owner of BouNom Bakery in Avon. “I decided it was time to be part of the solution.”
Together with Jason Chang, director of UConn’s Asian and Asian American Studies Institute (AAASI), Vorasane created the Nom and Boulieng Vorasane Scholarship, which supports AAASI students who are pursuing a career in education. The scholarship will help the future educators gain a deeper understanding of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and its role in the foundation and growth of the United States.
Vorasane says that equipping teachers with knowledge about AAPI history is an important step to educating the greater population.
“Educating teachers will have a ripple effect,” she says. “Just like when you throw a pebble in the water and the ripple gets bigger and bigger. If you educate the teachers, they will in turn educate their students, who will share this information with their family and friends, and so forth.”
Georgia Mikan and Lynna Vo are the first recipients of the scholarship, which was awarded in February. Like Vorasane, Mikan and Vo are from small towns and didn’t see a lot of Asian representation growing up. Both say that UConn’s diversity has been a welcome change.
“My sister and I are both adopted and are Chinese, but our parents are white, and our town isn’t very diverse. I felt like I was in a bubble,” says Mikan, who is from Cromwell, Connecticut. “I wanted to be exposed to different people in college. UConn has opened my eyes in many ways.”
“There was a lack of Asian representation, other than my family,” says Vo of her hometown of Middlefield, Connecticut. “My sister started at UConn a year before me, and we have both found a community through the Vietnamese Student Association.”
Both Vo and Mikan hope that as teachers, they can be the Asian representation they didn’t see in their own classrooms growing up. Mikan, who plans to teach social studies, says this will benefit students from other cultures as well.
“I want to expose my students to cultures other than their own, so they understand where everybody comes from,” she explains. “There is a lot of bias in history, and I want to be able to have difficult conversations in my classroom.”
Vo agrees. “I never saw myself represented in the classroom, and I want to be that person to my future students and foster a culturally responsive environment,” she says.
“The task of making our public school curriculum more inclusive and accurate by building an AAPI curriculum specific to Connecticut is a huge task that will take years to develop,” says Chang. “Thanks to Khamla’s vision, we have an extraordinary opportunity to inspire and engage pre-teaching students now as partners in this work, and eventually, they will become champions of this curriculum in the schools. As director of the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, I am committed to supporting teachers, schools, and districts through the Advanced Pedagogy Curriculum Lab, expanding Early College Experience courses in Asian American studies, and consulting with the State Department of Education for this multi-year effort.”
“Helping to fight the spread of misinformation about the AAPI community is key, and education is critically important,” says Vorasane. “If you educate the mass, you eradicate ignorance. And when you do that, you can start having real conversations.”