|My Freshman Year|
My fieldwork had been done during an academic seminar that was hosted by a research institute belonging to the American state university’s Japan campus in Tokyo. The settings were as follows: It was a Friday night from 7:30p.m. until 9:00p.m. The seminar was open not only to the students and faculty at the institute and university, but also to the public. It was all done in English. On the third floor of a business building, two classrooms were combined and used as a site. 80-90 seats were available in the room. First only one of the rooms was used, but as more people came, partitions between the two rooms were removed and another room was opened to the audience right before the seminar started. In there, two people shared one table. There was a podium and a big white screen at the front of the room. Two tables with chairs were set beside them for two guest speakers and a moderator to sit. The front area of the classroom was a bit dark during the first half of the seminar due to the use of a projector. After the first speaker finished using it, lights went on. A university’s brochure was left on the table at each seat. There were a few chairs also available on the window side.
At 7:30p.m., the lecture session began. The number of the audience members increased to more than 50 by then. More Japanese-like men were seen in the audience. The director of the institute gave a short speech to the audience. Then the first guest speaker, who was a white, college professor in the U.S., started his lecture using PowerPoint. The topic of the seminar was the 2012 U.S. Presidential election and Republican primaries. The lecturer explained the geographical and historical factors of the Republican Primary race going on in the U.S. in detail. One person in the audience pointed out a mistake in the speaker’s data, but other than that, the audience was listening to the lecturer’s speech quietly and intently.
At 7:50p.m., the first speaker finished his speech and the second guest speaker, who was a white, Tokyo-based political analyst, started his lecture. He did not use PowerPoint. The number of the audience members increased to about 60. The audience laughed once when the speaker made a mistake in telling a candidate’s name. Besides that, they seemed to listen to him quietly and intently. There were two very old white women sitting at the first row near the podium. The older one kept nodding during the speeches.
By 8:12p.m., there were few available seats. In total, there seemed to be about 70 people in the room. 90 percent of them were men. Among them, 10 percent were Asian. There seemed to be no undergraduate students in their twenties in the audience besides the two mentioned earlier.
At 8:15p.m., the second speaker finished his speech and a Q and A session started. During the session, there were about 7 or 8 questioners. All of them were male and all of them except one (an undergraduate student to be mentioned later in this paper) were working adults. They all asked questions related to the U.S. Presidential election. Most of them gave their names and their job titles or company’s names before they asked a question. Among them, an American lawyer, a U.S. official of the Department of Treasury, and a Japanese researcher working at a Japan’s top economic think-tank were included. A few of them seemed to know each other since they mentioned each other’s names in their questions. At the very end, the black male undergraduate student, who was sitting at the end of the last row, raised his hand and asked two questions to the lecturers. One of them was about why a college student like him could not vote from abroad. The other one was about how ‘minority people’ in the U.S. are affecting the election this time. His first question was immediately answered not by the lecturers, but by two of the audience members. Right after he finished asking questions, and before the lecturers opened their mouths, two of the questioners (the lawyer and the U.S. official) commented on his first question. First, the lawyer confirmed with the student that he is a U.S. citizen, and pointed out that he can vote even if he were in Japan. The undergraduate student seemed to understand that what he just said was based on wrong information, and just said “Okay” to him. The lawyer added that he or the U.S. official could help the student on this issue if the student needed their help. He then replied to the lawyer jokingly saying, “I usually don’t trust lawyers, but thanks.” After these exchanges among the audience members, his second question was briefly answered by the lecturers. The Q and A session continued until 9:00p.m., and the seminar finished with a short speech by the director of the institute.
Social events on campus in the U.S.
Nathan 2005:41-66). Among social events on campus, according to the New York Times, only college sports games (Pappano 2012) and corporate-sponsored promoting campaigns run by hired students (Singer 2011) are the two most powerful social events mobilizing people on campus today. As Nathan pointed out, contemporary college students draw on little academic interests and contacts on campus (Nathan 2005:57). For most students, the university community is experienced as a relatively small, personal network of people who did things together (Nathan 2005:54). Therefore, it is quite understandable that most students did not spare their time to attend the academic seminar even though the topic such as the U.S. Presidential election was familiar and important for them and was held in one of the classroom they usually used.
|Small Places, Large Issues|
The most interesting questioner was, however, the undergraduate student who asked his questions last. He also tried to represent himself as a representative of dual minority groups. In his first question, he asked why an American student in a foreign country like him did not have a chance to vote. This question sounded more like a complaint against the working adults in the same room. In this case, he represented himself as a representative of other American undergraduate students at the same campus in Tokyo. What he said to the lawyer last clearly showed that the student was positioning himself as an anti-authoritarian. He also positioned himself as a member of ethnic minority groups in the U.S. when he was asking the second question regarding minority effects on the election. This is what often happens in class on campus in the U.S. Nathan writes in her book that “when the [racial or ethnic] subject is raised, as in the occasional class, students of color report being continually expected to educate whites about minority issues or speak” (Nathan 2005:60). In a sense, the undergraduate student just did what minority people are expected to do on campus although the half of his initial attempt unfortunately failed. From an anthropological point of view, he just stepped into the part of the ‘real world’ on his campus with his identity as a college student and also as a member of the ethnic minority group, and faced his immaturity as a result. For him, attending the academic seminar and asking questions to the experts would have been a challenge to become a grown-up adult in the society. In a word, this could be seen as a rite of passage for him in order to be accepted as a politically-conscious American citizen like the other participants.
An academic seminar or conference on campus has ambiguously symbolic meanings. Most of the audience members are usually professionals and experts, but the event is held right in the middle of an undergraduate students’ territory. For the undergraduate students, the seminar is the part of ‘real society’ right next to their ordinary campus life so that they can easily step in and feel the atmosphere of it. My fieldwork this time was based upon these dimensional settings. On an anthropological perspective, a young undergraduate student’s attempt to represent himself in the ‘real world’ was made in the middle of the impression-managing game among the other adult audience members, most of whom have symbolic statuses. It was interesting to observe this symbolic politics played by American people in a classroom in Japan.