“At first, it was really just to find out where to get Asian haircuts and good food.” That’s what comes to mind when David Zhao '21 considers why he first visited the Asian American Center. A year later, he now serves as a sophomore peer leader to help ease first-years’ transitions into life in Tufts. Through the program, he finds joy in interacting with his Asian identity more intentionally and connecting with students as not only a mentor figure but as an Asian peer who understands the cultural backings and experiences of being an Asian-American.
The abundance of peer leaders working in the program is “on purpose,” for through a wildly different array of individuals, more diverse identities are represented. And first-years get the chance to relate to their sophomore leaders on the grounds of shared academic interests, shared home states, shared cultural experiences, even shared music preferences.
When reflecting on what being a first-year was like, David shares how he struggled with others’ failure to consider diversity in socioeconomic status. As a first-gen Questbridge scholar, he had to code switch because “he didn’t know people who [he] could relate to.” He brings to attention the importance of considering class differences within what it mean to be Asian in a private institution by reflecting on assumptions that are overlooked. David shares, “Because I am Chinese and I go to Tufts, the average person will think that I am of high income. And that’s not true.” He moves forward with the intention of expanding the model minority by sharing his story with his mentees.
His face lights up when he recalls a special moment he had with two of his mentees. At the Center’s first open house, when he introduced himself as a QuestBridge scholar, his mentees immediately confided in him with their fears coming into college. In an instant, he remembered his experiences as a first-year of not feeling ready or capable to take on the challenges that come with fighting the minority status and low-income status. David feels happiest knowing that his empathetic mentorship with the students allowed them to step out of themselves and navigate college with confidence.
As for Asian haircut spots, David stays loyal to his trustworthy barber in Chinatown. For good comfort food, he recommends Mr. Wang’s for their finger-licking appetizers and stomach-filling fried rice.