[Letters] Breaking the bamboo ceiling

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[Letters] Breaking the bamboo ceiling

The day that President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim to the position of the president of World Bank, my Korean friends and relatives half way across the world bombarded me with messages. Major Korean media outlets had been having a field day, reporting with nationalistic glee that a Korean-American immigrant had been elevated to an important position in the maintenance of American soft power.

But many Dartmouth students, alumni and associates questioned Dr. Jim Yong Kim’s commitment to the college. Given the short duration of his tenure thus far, more vitriolic readers lambasted his nomination as a sign that Dr. Kim had seen his current position as a mere stepping-stone to a federal post. Dr.
Kim’s college presidency has been fraught with contention, which is unsurprising, as one of his primary responsibilities had been to close a $100 million budget gap. His nomination also calls into question Dartmouth’s role in his National College Health Improvement Project, as well as numerous in-college committees initiated under his term.

Yet my disappointment as a Dartmouth student was complicated by pride and hope in a stage wider than that of the college itself. Despite his hitherto contentious presidency, President Jim Yong Kim has been one of relatively few mainstream Asian-American public figures. Before I even knew of Dartmouth, I had heard of Dr. Kim Yong — President Kim’s Korean moniker — since his ascension to the directorship of WHO’s HIV/AIDS department. His subsequent presidency at Dartmouth as the Ivy League’s first president of Asian-American heritage was one of the contributing factors in my decision to apply — and ultimately matriculate — to Dartmouth.

Following the release of the news by major media corporations, my peers in University of Southern California and Stanford — two institutions seeped in Asian-American culture — saw the broadcast of an African- American president’s nomination of an Asian-American educator and health professional as
a testament to the nascent beginnings of a post-racial American society. While I hesitate to share fully in their optimism, I feel that this and other instances of Asian Americans gaining prominence in recent years, such as appointment of Steven Chu into the U.S. cabinet and Jeremy Lin’s popularity, indicate of the slow but inexorable breakdown of the “bamboo ceiling,” the existing stereotype of Asian-Americans as meek and passive figures in the periphery of mainstream American society, in hopes that the coming years will see more Asian Americans in public roles.

Of course, positive reflection on the Asian- American community is dependent on President Kim’s performance on the job, and like an echo of earlier concerns, he has garnered some concern from analysts — like those from the England-based financial weekly “The Economist” — who have noted his apparent lack of experience in banking or finance, an obvious discrepancy compared to current incumbent World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, previously a managing director of Goldman Sachs, U.S. deputy secretary of state and U.S. trade representative.

With Dr. Kim’s ascension to the presidency of the World Bank all but certain, I wish him the best of luck in his new role in the world and thank him for the work he has put into his term at Dartmouth, as controversial as it has been. Yet Dr. Kim should also be aware his work at both Dartmouth College and the
World Bank — both positive or negative — will also have an impact on constructing the
image of Asian-Americans as leaders in the national and global field.

by Kim Yoo-jung, Dartmouth College, Hanover,New Hampshire.

* Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

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