Kajal Schiller is a sophomore who participated in this summer's Tiger Challenge program working on the Microaggression | Social Impression team. Its mission is to bring awareness of the inequities faced by Asian Americans, bring a voice to Asian Americans, and eradicate the systemic biases currently in place.

Schiller is an immigrant from India and now resides in South Carolina with her adopted family. In the following essay, Schiller reflects on her experience this summer.

As an Asian American, I did not expect many surprises when I joined the Microaggression | Social Impression Tiger Challenge team. As we started interviewing Asian American campus community members, I did not expect the stories I might hear to affect me personally. Moreover, while I am naturally empathetic, I did not expect anything would shift or change within me. However, my expectations were way off.

The first surprise came as I interviewed a junior who talked about her loneliness, feelings of never being good enough, and the pressure and confusion caused by having to be either Asian or American. It invoked a visceral reaction in me. I had this squirming restlessness in the pit of my stomach as the raw emotions manifested in my own body. 

As an Indian immigrant who grew up in a white family, I know what it is like to feel as if you have to toggle between cultures, never entirely fitting in—pulled between my American family's culture and my own Indian culture. As this student shared her sense of dichotomy in her identity and as I explained my similar struggles, we both felt an unexpected sense of unity.

I heard other stories from different members of the Princeton community we interviewed. Students, staff, and even faculty members opened up and recounted incidents that I had never imagined they would not only experience but share with us. It became clear to me that microaggression is being felt on all levels in our community, a fact I did not expect to uncover.

This Tiger Challenge experience affected me in ways I could have never anticipated. I now realize I want to provide people with a safe environment where they can be vulnerable and find commonality. I also want to help Asian Americans gain the strength they need to speak out when they are being silenced. 

Another unexpected realization I found was that the shared vulnerability of our community holds a unique power. The more we openly discuss these conflicts and experiences, the more we empower ourselves and each other. 

Please consider joining the Microaggression | Social Impression team this semester as part of the EGR 250 / 251 / 350 / 351 / 450 / 451 Community Project Studios course. Earn course credits while tackling a wicked problem.

Tiger Challenge is a Keller Center program that uses design thinking methodologies to help students address complex societal issues and build sustainable solutions.