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Tenzin kunor

director of Amherst college's center for diversity & student leadership

What is your role on campus? What is the role of the Center for Diversity & Student Leadership (CDSL), and how does it intersect with Asian affinity groups/Asian students' experiences?

Over the past three years, I've served as the Director of the CDSL within the Office of Student Affairs. Much of CDSL’s work consists of supporting and building out programming and resources for first generation, low-income, undocumented/DACA, transfer, and veteran students. These programs ensure that students develop and find success during their time in college.

Can you tell us about yourself and how your passion for education brought you to Amherst?

Growing up, being Tibetan was the most salient and most important identity of mine. I was born in the southern state of Karnataka in India, but now call Madison, Wisconsin and Western Massachusetts home. 


I've had a passion for education ever since meeting and having idolized my fourth grade teacher. Initially, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but in graduate school at Iowa State University, I studied student affairs in higher education.


During my last semester, I started looking for a job within residential life in higher ed. I had never heard of Amherst College but was invited to interview for a job here. I was excited to learn about its need-blind financial aid policy  and its student body’s racial diversity, which is relatively unique amongst selective liberal arts colleges. As an institute of higher education, Amherst College is very different from what I had experienced at Iowa State University, and I was intrigued by the challenge of learning how to be an effective student affairs professional in this new environment. Four years later, I can say I have no regrets and am grateful for all the experiences and opportunities I've had. 

What has been your experience in your current role so far?

If I could work a job similar to what I'm doing right now for the rest of my life, I think I could be happy. It's truly been a pleasure working closely with students and at the same time institutionally transforming what systems of support look like for various student populations. In particular, I've been proud of how—within the past three years—we've shifted and transformed resources and services for first generation and low-income students.

How has your Asian identity influenced your career, your everyday experience, and/or your current role?

There aren't many Asian staff working at Amherst College or generally within higher education, and there aren't many Asians working within student affairs specifically. During my time in graduate school, and now professionally, I'm often the only Asian person in the room. 


Growing up, my ethnic identity was incredibly important  to me because of my parents and my upbringing. Yet although I knew I was Asian growing up, it wasn't until my first couple years of college that I started thinking more deeply about what it meant for my racial identity to beAsian.


Navigating a predominantly white undergraduate university in Wisconsin forced me to think of my Asian identity in ways I hadn't before, and I am beyond grateful to have been connected to an Asian American student organization that helped me in my racial identity development journey. Now within my current role working with underrepresented and marginalized student populations where I frequently have conversations about social class and classism, I think of how my own racial identity and class identities intersect. I grew up in a family of working class, first generation immigrants. I later went on to be the first in my extended family of 36 cousins to complete a bachelor's degree in the U.S. The Asian American experience and community isn't a monolith, and I'm proud to represent Asian communities often underrepresented within higher education.

How have you been involved with Asian students on campus? What brought you to this role?

As soon as I arrived on campus in 2016, I made myself available to the student leaders of the Asian Students Association (ASA). I shared with them my experiences being the president of an Asian affinity based student organization during my undergrad years and also as an advisor for another one during graduate school. I wanted them to know that I'd be more than happy to commit time providing support and advising should they feel they needed it. 


Since that semester, I've worked closely with the ASA co-chairs by meeting with them on a bi-weekly basis and by supporting them in their roles as leaders  as well as students and people. Although it's technically not within my job portfolio, one of the highlights during my time at Amherst is undoubtedly the opportunity to work with the students who have served as co-chairs for ASA. They've been incredibly brilliant and dedicated, and some of the kindest, most sincere and thoughtful people I've ever met. Eunice, Ludia, Jenna, Sho, Olivia, Kevin, Sabrina, Greene, and Seoyeon—thank you! So grateful to have had (and continue to have) the opportunity to work with you and to know you!

How has the advocacy for Asian American Studies changed during your time at Amherst?

Within the past four years, I've really been able to observe the emergence and development of the advocacy work for Asian American Studies. I've been able to see how organized, strategic, collaborative, and creative students have been. It's been inspiring to see students advocating for more representation within the curriculum, especially in an institutional and structural way.

Are there any other thoughts that you'd like to share?

No other thoughts! Thanks for highlighting me! :)

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