Photo by Patrick Mills

Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences student Serena Meyers '23, whose exploration of her ethnic identity has fueled her efforts to promote justice and equity, is the winner of the 2022 Boston College Benigno and Corazon Aquino Scholarship.

Awarded to a junior each spring, the scholarship recognizes a strong academic record, active engagement in Asian-American issues, and service both on and off campus to the Asian American community.

Meyers was presented with the scholarship by Professor of English Min Hyoung Song, chair of the Aquino Scholarship Committee, at the annual Aquino Scholarship Banquet in April. Other candidates were Jiu Lee, Ted (Sang Oen) Park, Ishaan Kaushal, and Jessie Cheng. Last year’s winner, Alicia Kang ’22, also spoke.

“I was completely floored, and I felt so grateful to the University community and my friends who have been there for me during my time at BC,” recounted Meyers, a native of the Chicago area majoring in English and International Studies. “I also really appreciate how open and supportive the other scholarship finalists were. It’s easy to live in your own world without knowing about what others are doing, and how their interests can intersect with yours, so I was glad to make these connections.”

Although largely unfamiliar with the Jesuit, Catholic tradition on which the University was founded, Meyers chose to attend Boston College in large part because of its emphasis on values and service, and encouragement of introspection as a staple of everyday life. For someone who loves to write and read, BC’s English program was a natural fit as a major, while International Studies, she said, appealed to her as “an intersection between economics, history, and politics.”

These academic and formational facets of BC proved to be key for Meyers, who in her teenage years found herself dealing with questions about her identity: Born in China, she was adopted and grew up in the United States. While she’d lived in a diverse community, she said, “I didn’t know about my cultural background, which I felt was an important part of who I was, even though I didn’t live in China very long. Although I started to do some self-exploration my senior year of high school—I took a class in Chinese, for example—the tension between being American yet of Chinese origin was still difficult for me to reconcile.”

Meyers points to her English classes as an important source of inspiration and direction, including a class by Assistant Professor of the Practice Lorenzo (Alex) Puente on Asian-American authors and themes of exclusion, immigration, and citizenship. She also was engaged by Professor Laura Tanner’s American Fiction and the Family class.

Outside of the classroom, Meyers found fellowship and support through her participation in BC’s Chinese Student Association and in particular by helping restart ASiAM, a campus literary publication centered on Asian culture, and expanding its scope to include more kinds of artistic expression.

Perhaps the most important avenue for Meyers to build self-awareness, but in a wider context, has been through the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center’s Bowman Advocates for Inclusive Culture program, in which student leaders are trained to facilitate cross-cultural activities and dialogues with peers in the University community.

“Having the opportunity to reflect on what racial identity means to us, and how it contributes to our day-to-day life, has been incredibly helpful,” said Meyers, who has been a Bowman Advocate for two years. “It was beneficial to see the commonalities shared, and the challenges faced, by many people and to be able to talk about these issues in a safe place. These kinds of conversations made us feel comfortable, and that we truly belonged to the BC community.”

Working with BC’s Innocence Program—and learning about injustice in the carceral system, structural inequalities, and the divisive impact of systematic racism on communities—has further contributed to Meyers’ worldview; she looks forward to broadening her perspective more this summer as an intern at the BC Center for Human Rights and International Justice.

But these epiphanies have not occurred in a vacuum: The widely documented rise in racial incidents against Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic has weighed on Meyers. “Being here on campus, it’s sometimes easy to feel disconnected from what’s going on around us. But I faced a microaggression related to COVID and the stigma that many in the Asian community have experienced, and it really demonstrated how impactful these issues are, and how widely negative stereotypes can spread.”

As she contemplates her upcoming senior year, Meyers—who is on a pre-law track—is sorting through possibilities for her post-BC life. She is certain that it will involve working for social justice in some capacity, whether in a legal, political, or journalistic setting, or some combination of these. But her experience as a high school student canvassing for a state senate candidate showed her how important the local-personal dimension is to bringing change.

“It was terrifying being out there sometimes,” she said. “People could get pretty mad when I knocked on their doors and tried to talk to them—but then, maybe I’d get mad, too, if I was trying to have a relaxing evening and some young person came to my door. And yet, you could also have good conversations, too. You learn how local politics work, and that’s really where everything begins.”

Sean Smith | University Communications | May 2022