Peter Wang

Williston’s First Chinese Students: Why the Chinese Government Disapproved

The Scholar: Peter Wang

The Project: Williston’s First Chinese Students: Why the Chinese Government Disapproved

The Essential Question: “I was interested in the first Chinese students at Williston, because I’m a Chiense student myself. At first, my project was the first Chinese students in America, then I found out some of the first students actually came to Williston, so I decided to research that because it was a personal connection. I was able to go into the archives and dig out some old yearbooks.”

Surprising Discovery: “Yeah, I was surprised that the Chinese students were actually pretty popular amongst the students. I would think that because they were the first generation of their country to visit this place, that they’d be shy and things like that–but they were very popular at Williston, and even at other schools.”

Biggest Challenge: “It was, I think, the scarcity of information. On the internet, there wasn’t a lot of stuff, there wasn’t a lot of things covered. So I had to go into the archives, into the library, I had to get help from professors from nearby colleges and ask them if they had any resources in their libraries that I could use.”

Tip for Future Scholars: “One piece of advice I would give is think about your project in the summer, before you go into the course, because I wasn’t too clear about what I wanted to do and I felt like I wasted some time thinking about what idea I wanted. I wasn’t clear about what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to do some history. If you come into the classroom with a clear idea, you’ll have a better plan.”

Did you notice anything different looking back at old Williston yearbooks–things that don’t happen any more, or things that got glossed over? “There was a lot of caricatures–drawings–that could be microaggressions, things like that, which wouldn’t happen in current-day Williston. It was the 1870s, so there was xenophobia and kind of teasing these kids and teasing international students. It just shows how far we’ve come. Right now, this school is very welcoming to international students, whereas at the start of the institution, there was a difference.”