May Yang ’10
President, Student Government Association
September 9, 2009
Good Morning President Creighton, faculty, and staff! Good morning class of 2013! Welcome back class of 2012! Glad you’re here and not abroad class of 2011! Finally, CONGRATULATIONS class of 2010, we’ve made it!
My name is May Yang, and I am honored to stand before you as your Student Government Association president. Before I begin, I want to give an extra shout out to all the family and friends who are with us here as well as those at home. Thank you for supporting us as we embark on our collegiate journey for the first time or for the last time. Here is to family and friends!
2009 has been an exciting year of elections. From robust democracies like the U.S., India, Kuwait, Israel, and Japan, to more shaky democracies like Lebanon, El Salvador, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Some of these countries witnessed fair and contested elections and a peaceful transfer of power, while others struggle to combat election fraud and violent backlashes. As I watched these elections unfold, I couldn’t help but ask the question, what does legitimacy mean in these different contexts?
Arguably the most controversial regime whose legitimacy came under question was that of the Republic of Iran, where thousands of citizens marched and demonstrated for days in the streets of Tehran in defiance of the election results. While there were many elements of the Iranian election and its aftermath that brought me to the edge of my seat, the elements that were particularly striking to me were: 1) The momentum built by empowered college students and young people who dared to challenge the status quo and 2) The power of technology and social media in distributing and accessing news and information around the globe. The fusion of these two elements created voices that transcended the confines of their silencers. Yet despite their poignant outcries, the protesters remain a minority against a majority-backed regime. Which begs the question again, what is legitimacy?
The recent events in Iran may seem far-fetched to most of us here in the heart of rural Massachusetts, but for me it was a solemn reminder of the fragility of a community and of the minority’s role in building our student government’s legitimacy.
For a community as vibrant and diverse as ours, Mount Holyoke is quite a microcosm of the world and thereby susceptible to the burdens of the world.
As we learn about our institution’s past, namely fighting for women’s rights, we must also take note of the subtle gender binaries that still persist in our society, reflected in the lack of top female leaders in politics, business, sciences, etc. When asked why women’s colleges are necessary in the modern world, I proudly explain that institutions like ours create a world where gender is no longer a discriminating or determining factor to one’s success and achievement. By removing ourselves from a male-dominated society, we can see inequality in our world more clearly.
A similar logic can be applied to those suffering from other forms of inequality in our society--such as many students of color who, having spent most of their life unable to hide from this race-conscious world, look to Mount Holyoke for a place where race is no longer a discriminating factor to one’s success and for safe spaces where they are the racial majority, in efforts to develop a positive racial identity.
While we all like diversity in the form of cultural shows and drag balls, we sometimes forget that true diversity requires a much deeper level of understanding and respect and going beyond lazy tolerance. An essential part of creating a community that embraces its diversity lies in the recognition of its members’ different needs due to their different histories. While our society has made laudable strides towards equality, there’s still much room for progress.
The creation of Hortense Parker Day at Mount Holyoke College for the first time last year was a celebration for students of color as well as a celebration of the progress of our humanity.
I know that issues of racism/sexism and other isms and inequalities can’t be resolved at Mount Holyoke, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t proactively create a more inclusive community, as individuals and as a collective. The student government is working to utilize more technology and social media to strengthen your voice, your collaboration, and your feedback as we strive to build a more equal and just community at Mount Holyoke.
To end with President Obama’s words from his speech titled “A More Perfect Union,” he said: “I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together--unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction--toward a better future.”
Thank you and have a terrific year!