by Diya Goyal and Theresa Lim
Nobody was supposed to get hurt, let alone die, in the hazing process Michael Deng went through while rushing for the Asian-American fraternity, Pi Delta Psi, at his local Queens college, Baruch.
The hazing process at Pi Delta Psi did not go without thought. It was intended to simulate the hardships and abuse immigrant parents went through, an education of what racism their predecessors were faced with through a physical simulation called “the Glass Ceiling.”
“The pledge is supposed to be thinking about his parents and the sacrifices they made as immigrants...and the oppressive invisibility of Asian lives in America,” according to Jay Kang of the New York Times. “The pushing, the tackling and the racial abuse are meant to be the physical expression of their struggle.”
Pi Delta Psi aims to educate its pledges about everything they will have to face in the real white America and respect everything their predecessors have suffered through. The end goal is for the pledge to realize that the only way to survive in white America is to stick with his fellow Asians.
But after taking too many hits, Deng fell unconscious and passed away the next morning; thus unearthing the legal issues the Glass Ceiling raised.
Officially, the national fraternity does not allow the physical abuse and tackling that took place at Deng’s initiation, and a lawyer representing the Pi Delta Psi frat referred to it as a “direct violation of the fraternity’s policies.” At least, it does in theory. According to Kang, a multitude of people he spoke to at various chapters of Pi Delta Psi spoke of their own initiation process having something similar to the Glass Ceiling ritual at Baruch.
“In reality,” Daniel Li, the former president of Pi Delta Psi during the time of Deng’s death, stated that the national Pi Delta Psi leaders “knew what was going on.”
In search for his Asian-American identity, Deng lost himself, but self identification is not an issue that Deng alone dealt with. Self identity becomes a larger issue in the Asian American population.
As both Asians and Americans, there is always a dilemma present: do we identify more with our social, American upbringing or our cultural, Asian upbringing. This dilemma gives way to a disconnect, which we see through underrepresentation of Asian Americans not only in the media but also in history lessons taught at school.
One fraternity brother, Sheldon Wong, said that until he pledged Pi Delta Psi “he did not know how badly his people had suffered.” The more he immersed himself in Pi Delta Psi’s history of Asian-American oppression, the more he grew frustrated with the gaps in his New York City public education system. Pi Delta Psi allowed him to become more open towards his parents, and truly learn about the hardships they faced in immigrant America.
Pi Delta Psi allowed Michael Deng the same opportunity - to become more in tune with his Asian identity - but at what cost?
In his article, Jay Kang stated that “Asians are the loneliest Americans:” a fitting, yet ironic statement in light of Deng’s death.
He stated that “the current vision of solidarity among Asian-Americans is blurry and relegated to conversations at family picnics, in drunken exchanges over food that reminds everyone at the table of how their mom used to make it.”
Kang goes as far as to state that “Asian pride is a laughable concept to most Americans,” which is something that has come about by constant racism being treated without any real outcry.
While clumsy and definitely not at its best, Pi Delta Psi was a step towards setting down a precedent in finding self identity for Asian Americans. Michael Deng’s death only made this cry of independence and confrontation with being both Asian and American aware to the rest of the world, allowing the process to be rectified in a way that would not hurt anybody else.