Carina Peng Attends Princeton Symposium on Race
by Kimberly Grabiec
The Princeton Prize in Race Relations award honors high school students who have done notable work in improving race relations. Carina Peng, Adv. 902, earned this award at the Princeton Symposium. This annual program is held by the Alumni Association and is currently offered in 28 regions across America, recognizing the best work in each location. According to the Alumni Association, the motive of this prize is “To promote harmony, respect, and understanding among people of different races by identifying and recognizing high school age students whose efforts have had a significant, positive effect on race relations in their schools or communities.” Since her freshman year, Peng has done just that. Although she mainly focuses on immigrant issues, she has worked on grassroots advocacy campaigns on improving the rights of immigrant students. With help from Mr. Charles Milbert, Social Science department, Peng has also organized the DREAMers Club in order to help undocumented students feel welcomed and supported.
At the symposium, Peng had the opportunity to meet the other prize winners and to have conversations about racial equality and the steps being taken to make change. Peng said, “At the symposium, I met those that came before us to challenge race inequality. To them, these issues seemed like yesterday, while to us, they felt like ‘once upon a time’.” It was truly disheartening to see the same issues perpetuating, but meeting the other prize winners, all of us with different ideas but the same vision, really gave me hope.”
The prize winners watched “Medicine for Melancholy,” a film directed by Barry Jenkins, told through the perspective of two African-Americans dealing with racial issues and gentrification in San Francisco. Peng had the honor of hearing from Professor Kinohi Nishikawa, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at Princeton University, who analyzed this film in the lecture, “Ordinary Blackness: On the Aesthetics of Medicine for Melancholy.” According to Peng, Professor Nishikawa presented a new way of seeing race in American cinema. Instead of portraying black subjects as invisible or hypervisible, the movie uniquely shows the love between two African-Americans as ordinary and trivial. Peng said, “This was really interesting to me because I never thought of black representation and black identity this way. This really opened my eyes on how the mainstream media can have such an effect on how audiences perceive different races.”
Later in the symposium, Peng got to participate in activities such as the Privilege Circle. Here, prize winners were challenged to realize and recognize their personal relationships with power and privilege and how that translates into everyday life. Through this activity, Peng was able to better understand patterns of privilege regarding gender, socioeconomic status, race, sexuality, and more. Through these activities, the symposium was successful, not only in awarding those who are already making a huge difference in race relations, but also in furthering the conversation and challenging those involved.
Peng is very grateful for her experience, and for the opportunities she received. She expressed that in just one weekend, she learned so much that changed how she viewed race relations in America. One of the main things she learned was that racial discrimination is prominent within language, including the nuances in pronunciation, the way people address one another, and how they overcome language barriers. Peng said that she also learned that today, people are too focused on themselves, and struggle to be empathetic for other people’s difficulties. She believes that communities need to not only be proud of their own culture, but also be able to respect and value others’ in order to reach true racial harmony.