Joyce Tan is a staff in NYU Shanghai’s Office of Student Life. In February, she and her colleagues and friends established a website called ‘unCover’ to uncover narratives, opinions and equity issues during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The articles they translate and write cover issues including Sinophobia, Xenophobia and Black Lives Matter Movement. Apart from publishing articles online, they run a podcast in various platforms.
Please check their website for more information: https://uncoverinitiative.home.blog
Interview with Joyce Tan:
Transcript of the interview:
Joyce: Thank you Leilei for inviting me and having me. My name is Joyce Tan, I work at New York University, Shanghai. So it’s a Sino-US university located in Shanghai. And this is my 6th year working there. And my specific job responsibility involves creating programs and events related to diversity and inclusion for the students and sometimes beyond the student population.
Leiyun: So since you are working in your university to promote the inclusion and diversity. I guess you might have some different opinions or understandings of racism and racial issues in your daily life, I guess
Joyce: Before the Covid-19… I think so. I think I may have also share this with you and the group a little bit previously how reading some articles and books and watching some movies really opened my eyes to racism, and especially anti-black racism. There was some kind of moment that I had having to face directly my own implicit biases towards people of colour, specifically people with darker skin darker than my own. I really brought that awareness to my work knowing that how many of us have few opportunities to be exposed to those issues and topics relate to racism and how important but hard it is for people to really get a race-related education growing up.
So I think what I really try to focus in my work is to make sure that people can feel that racism, or specifically anti-black racism, is not something that’s irrelevant to them. I want to make sure that they feel that they have personal connections to the issue, that this is something impacting not only people in one place of one community, but everyone, and also kind of contextualising and localising the topic of racism in terms of not making it a white and black dichotomy, but rather helping people to realise that this is an issue that affects people of all different skin shades. And it’s also an issue that intersects with other topics such as gender and class. And how we talk about race might be different in China from that in the US and we may not be able to explain everything by saying that it’s white supremacy, because obviously we’re not a predominantly white society. But still how that same topic or same issue manifests differently in our society.
Leiyun: How did Covid-19 impact your life in the past half a year? Or are there any changes or incidents in your life that made you reflect on the issue of racism?
Joyce: It has made it clear for me to see some of the really deep-rooted and pervasive and institutional racism in our daily life. I held an event talking about this issue of the othering racism and xenophobia. And at that event, we talked not only about the biases and prejudice and discrimination against the Asian community, but also, for example, the black community and the African community and China, especially in Guangzhou.
So I think while sometimes it might sound vague or abstract to say that like people are colour are suffering from those institutional racism. I think this pandemic has made it super crystal clear that those are not fiction, that the numbers and statistics from the death rate, or how black community has been disproportionately affected by it. I think those numbers and those facts have made people more aware that those structural issues have been long existing and with the incidents related to police brutality happening and then the following protests, that’s even clearer to many of us. So I think it’s one issue manifested in various different ways.
Leiyun: So was that the reason that you and your team members published some articles, and did that podcast on this racially related issues on the ‘unCover疫中人 ’project?
Joyce: That’s definitely one of the reasons. And I we felt that it was a good timing and a good opportunity to introduce this topic to the wider audience, especially the Chinese audience. Because while unfortunate as those incidents were, they did provide a good window time for the Chinese audience to learn more about what’s happening in the US and to do some self-reflection to. And to me and my team, this is also a learning moment too, because I may have been exposed to some of those histories and topics and issues because of my work, but still there are so much more things that I need to learn. And for students and colleagues and friends of my team are working on those issues was also a great opportunity for them to kind of do more reckoning and do more self-reflection. So I do feel that we utilise that moment of collective reckoning in order to do some of our own self-reflection, and then hopefully, transfer that energy to a wider audience to.
And I guess something that also is different is how I realise that we are not the only one who is caring about this work. Right? We got connected to people like you and your peers and your friends because of Covid-19. And then we got to be even more connected because we both continued to work first on Covid- 19 and then to anti-racism work. I just feel that despite the natural disaster, like the unexpected pandemic, we were given this opportunity to be connected because we would never have known each other without this. So I guess this is the only silver lining if we think of it that way, it’s the human connection that we were able team.
Leiyun: How did you recruit your team members? Where were they and where were they from?
Joyce: I think I came back from Changsha to Shanghai in early February, February 4th to be are specific. And I think that was the day that I decided that I have to do something and I’m gonna initiate something of my own instead of joining some other existing initiatives.Once I decided that, I considered all the resources that I have in my network, and my job gives me a natural advantage of having a group of students and colleagues to reach out to begin with. So I thought with a network of bilingual students and young professionals. Translation is something that’s very direct and simple that we can start with working on. So that’s how the idea was settled upon.
I think I may have talked to my colleague who oversees my work before I reach out to the students who have been active in my programme. So I know that they have been passionate about topics relate to diversity and social justice. And I know that there are a good group of people to reach out. And then with this new idea of doing my own initiative, I just thought it’s good energy to gather and momentum to build upon, to just reach out to those group of students that I know and I’ve been working with and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea. This is not directly related to NYU Shanghai. But because we know each other this way, I thought you might be interested’. And and a couple of them quickly said yes. And I was really glad.
And so we set up a team just like that within days and quickly, kind of organized among ourselves to build the website, built the wechat platform, and other social media platforms. While the meantime, trying to collect articles that we think are translation-worthy and trying to contacting the people for translation authorization. I think it was really a privilege to have, for example, former colleagues who kindly offered to create the website for us almost overnight. And then someone who only offer us to use her drawings and art works as like illustrations for us to put, but also went out of her way to design a logo for us. And that’s the current unCover logo. And for that I feel forever grateful to people like them who really helped at the very beginning of this process.
Leiyun: So what the target audience actually you and your team members are thinking about? Because and it’s also bilingual. And what kind of feedbacks you actually receive from the audience?
Joyce: So I think it’s also challenging question for us to figure out. And’ it’s still something that we’re trying to ask ourselves while producing contents of different languages. But I do think our audience is leaning towards those who already maybe have some preliminary access and are privileged in some ways to be able to access some international and foreign language materials.
According to the data that we have, it’s predominantly female. I think only 15% to 20%of them are men, our wechat readers at least. And then most of them, I think maybe like 70% the majority of them are young people between 18 to 25ish. And then the second largest group is like my age group, which is in their late twenties to early thirties.
In terms of feedback, I thought it means what would actually appeal to a wider range of audience, we should work on issues that feature really more like common people’s voices, people in our daily lives, and not necessarily a very serious academic discussion, but really just what’s your story? What’s your background? What’s your opinion on this specific issue? So featuring people’s voices from different backgrounds and different social status, and using a language that’s more accessible to people with various educational levels.
Leiyun: I can see that your team is recruiting new members. And I guess you might have new ideas that you want to carry on or you want to do different things? So what’s the next step?
Joyce: I really just want new voices and different perspectives. Because in addition to China and America, we need more voices featuring other I guess identities and issues that are prevalent in other societies too.
So I think as much as I have been committed to work of diversity and social justice, my perspectives are also very limited by my positionality. I know the most when it comes to China and sometimes US or the connection between US-China issue. I guess constantly expanding our focus to feature voices from different backgrounds are important. So I really want to see how with the new members that we recruit, what issues they want to focus on. I think providing that ownership, that platform for them to take ownership is very important. And I guess learning how to very quickly respond to the current events and heated topics going on in the Chinese society is something that’s both challenging, but also something that we we need to learn to.