The Asian Pacific American experience is a significant component of American history, according to Billy Soo, vice provost for faculties.
“The last several years have shown we have significant momentum because of the building appreciation for the importance of diversity in our community,” Soo said. “So APAHM’s theme of ‘we are one’ is an important reminder to all of us at this particular moment in American history.”
Soo spoke at Boston College’s opening ceremony for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) on Tuesday night in Gasson 100.
Soo, who was raised in the Philippines, said the tyrannical martial law upheld by former Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos helped him appreciate the United States’ right to free speech.
“Now, in the United States, one can easily take for granted the right and ability to speak one’s mind and criticize the government without fear of reprisal,” Soo said. “During martial law in the Philippines while I was growing up, people would disappear … if they criticized the government.”
Free speech stems from the expression of thought in a diverse community, Soo said. At the University of the Philippines, Soo said over 90 percent of his classmates were native Filipinos from a “wide cross section” of society.
Soo said such diversity was lacking at BC when he first started working at the University 32 years ago.
“When I first joined the accounting department in CSOM in 1990, I was only the second Asian in the department, and if I remember correctly, the third in a school that had 79 faculty members,” Soo said. “Diversity was not considered a big deal at the time, but truthfully, I never felt isolated or disrespected.”
When he became the vice provost of faculty in 2016, Soo said half of the accounting department was Asian.
According to Soo, faculty diversification takes a long time due to the length of faculty tenures.
“From our faculty of about 900, we might have 40 or 50 departures in a year,” Soo said. “And I provide us [with] this fraction so that you can understand why it takes a little longer to change the composition and diversity of that.”
As a professor, Soo said he recognized the value of varying perspectives when presenting his research at conferences.
“The objective of [conferences] is to solicit feedback on the project,” Soo said. “This process can be very painful, as it’s not a lot of fun to have your work criticized, but it’s a standard, crucial step in the scientific research process. Other people may have greater expertise or knowledge, or can provide a novel, different perspective on what you’ve done.”
Soo said it is important that people are able to work with different perspectives, especially in a diversifying society.
“In an increasingly diverse society, there will be many more times that we will encounter and interact with people who won’t think like we do or have the same beliefs as we have,” Soo said. “Our ability to work with people who have viewpoints different from us is essential for a well-functioning democratic society.”
To conclude the event, Soo returned to APAHM’s theme of “we are one.” Soo said the U.S. motto, “e pluribus unum,” which translates to “out of many, one,” serves as a reminder of the power of diversity and togetherness.
“The motto was established to remind us of America’s attempt to form a single nation from a collection of states,” Soo said. “However, over the course of this country’s history, it has served also to remind us that we are a nation of people from many different backgrounds in the U.S. who are striving to be one.”
Featured Image by Ben Schultz / For The Heights