Disoriented: The First Asian Students, 1889-1924

Disoriented: The First Asian Students, 1889-1924 (Summer 2023) explores the early history of Japanese and Chinese students at Bryn Mawr, a history colored by prevailing stereotypes about East Asian people that were circulating on Bryn Mawr’s campus, Philadelphia, and the country at large. At the turn of the 20th century, Bryn Mawr began accepting Chinese and Japanese students through designated scholarship programs. But were these programs actually intended to benefit Asian students? What would their experiences have been like?​

While there are gaps in the College Archive about the actual lived experience of the early East Asian students, this exhibition aims to imagine those experiences through historical context both on the local and national scale. Asian students arrived on a campus decorated with Orientalist Asian motifs and to an administrative and student body that harbored anti-Asian sentiments. By sharing the eugenicist and racist speeches of M. Carey Thomas, as well as student plays promoting negative stereotypes of Japanese and Chinese people, this exhibition serves as an important reminder that anti-Asian racism exists around us, visibly and invisibly, both in the past and present.