The Meaning of SAOC
There, we sat. In this beautiful parlor of a Brooklyn brownstone, where original rich wood paneling contrasted with the sleek modern marble lines, eight of us Woodrow Wilson graduate students joined Woody Woo alumni of color to do what Woos do best. Eat. And talk. We trekked from Princeton on a (finally) warmer—but drizzly day—to the home of a Woody Woo alumna of color, who wanted us to meet established leaders actively engaged in lifting communities of color and to share our experiences with each other. We moved elegantly through our conversations, deftly moving from a cerebral economic discussion on technological progress and the “hallowing out” effects to the lessons of leadership, and how our identities inform these lessons. In this brilliant Brooklyn brownstone, we did what Woos do best. Eat. And talk.
This moment belongs to a larger narrative at the Woodrow Wilson School, steeped in the Students and Alumni of Color (SAOC) Symposium that has been a fabric of student life at the WWS for almost two decades. SAOC brings together WWS alumni and students to support the social and political development of communities of color by harnessing our role as policymakers to affect positive change in our communities.
I came to the Woodrow Wilson School in 2012 ready to take on the new challenges of the
infamously quantitative curriculum--the economics, statistics, and econometrics that I had avoided as an undergraduate in my career. I also recognized how different this experience would be as an Asian American who grew up in California and went to a large, public institution. Diversity there met seeing familiar faces who understood the feeling of otherness, and who could lend support to each other in trying times—ironically, diversity there emphasized similarity in the face of adversity.
This time, I knew it would be different. A small intimate class that affords us access to unimaginable resources also means that we may not always see that familiar face. But in the midst of the challenging first semester, I drew inspiration at SAOC from our alumni who traveled great distances to mentor current students of color and to tell us, “You’re here for a reason. It wasn’t a mistake. And we’re here to help you get through it.” For me, SAOC means building a strong community for students of color and transcending familiarity in favor of a fervent shared pursuit to lift our communities from persistent inequities by using our training as policymakers to affect sustained change.
As we made our way back to Princeton, I felt re-energized, prepared to cross the finish line to graduation. After all, we’re here for a reason. It wasn’t a mistake.