Dancer Discovers Passion for Diversity and Policy
Issue   |   Thu, 05/19/2016 - 19:41
Miu Suzuki ’16
Suzuki credits her Japanese upbringing with helping her understand her place in Amherst as a Diversity Intern.

Miu Suzuki is well known among her peers for her impressive performances in Dance and Step at Amherst College (DASAC) and her strong commitment to building community and fighting for progressive causes on campus — both officially and unofficially. Her friends agree that she has an infectiously friendly, conscientious and insightful air about her. When asked to describe Suzuki, her close friend Andrew Lindsay ’16 said, “Sublimity connotes a type of majesty that exceeds representation. Miu Suzuki is sublime.”

Expanding Horizons
Suzuki was born and raised in Las Vegas, but her entire family is from Japan and Japanese was her first language. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s and settled down in Las Vegas to raise Suzuki and her older brother. “It’s been interesting coming from a second-generation immigrant family,” Suzuki said. “It wasn’t until recently that I started realizing how Japanese my upbringing was and how culturally isolated I was to a certain degree, just because my parents never really assimilated and I think our home was a small piece of the island that they brought with them.”

She attended a large public high school in Las Vegas. “The only private schools in my area were Catholic, so I assumed that all private schools were religious,” she admitted, laughing. “So, when I came to Amherst, I was shocked, thinking that there were so many religious people here. I think this is a funny example of how different my high school is from Amherst.”

Suzuki first visited Amherst during the Diversity Open House as a prospective student and started seriously considering it as her college choice after that. “The amazing people I met and the open curriculum really drew me in,” Suzuki said. And she has been able to explore her own interests since coming here, adding, “I haven’t done a single problem set since coming to Amherst!”

Amherst Involvements
Once at Amherst, Suzuki became heavily involved in the campus community by becoming a tour guide, working for the theater and dance department and joining DASAC, Amherst Dance and Girls, Inc. during her first year. As a sophomore, she began going to the Black Student Union, which she considers to be a particularly formative aspect of her college experience. “There was no Asian affinity group back then and the BSU taught me the differences and similarities of experience that come with being a part of a different marginalized group,” Suzuki said. “I really learned to qualify when it is a good time to speak and when it is a good time to listen.”

She also became a Diversity Intern for the admissions office as a sophomore and now calls the admissions office her “second home” on campus.

Assistant dean of admission Will Cummins worked closely with Suzuki during her time there. “Miu’s commitment to the work of our office was impressive; she was not only a Diversity Intern, but also a tour guide and cared deeply about recruiting exceptional students of diverse backgrounds and perspectives,” he said.

Suzuki declared an English and political science double major after taking Narratives of Suffering with Professor Geoffrey Sanborn and other inspiring classes based on literary existentialism, as well as a particularly enlightening class on public policy with former Amherst professor Ashley Burns.

As a junior, she studied abroad in Prague, where she wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to learn about a new culture. Studying film theory in Prague sparked her interest in film and media studies. “I think I’m more proficient in Czech than I am in Spanish now just because I talked to a lot of the locals,” Suzuki said. “I didn’t want a typical abroad experience and I wanted to say that I lived in a place where I otherwise would not have been able to go. And now I’m a pseudo FAMS major at Amherst.”

As a senior, she also served on the search committee for the new chief diversity officer, performed in a dance opera and co-chaired DASAC.

Role of Dance
Suzuki has been dancing since the age of five. She started off doing gymnastics as a child and went on to participate in a traveling dance competition group. Before Amherst, she was mainly a ballet and tap dancer, and having been part of a ballet company for six years. The studio that she practiced in had many professional dancers, including some who performed in Broadway’s “The Lion King” and Cirque du Soliel.

Many of Suzuki’s friends from home have become professional dancers, but Suzuki had no intention of continuing to dance when she first arrived at Amherst. However, after meeting and becoming friends with members of DASAC, she auditioned and began enjoying the DASAC community and being able to perform again.

“That’s when I realized how much I can’t let dance go — it’s a different language,” Suzuki reflected. “Junior year of high school, I felt like the only way for me to release and express myself, in a certain way, was through dancing. I think that dancing is just an extension of the music that I listen to, and I’m transcribing the musicality of the songs onto my body. I think that losing that part of me would be losing a part of my identity.”

She has plans to continue dancing after college and hopes to take classes at the Broadway Dance Center in New York City.
Suzuki also connects her interest in film and media studies to her involvement with dance. She is a visual learner, so she sees the framing of a shot as “a beautiful, holistic orchestration.” After taking a class with visiting Professor Andrew Johnston, Suzuki said she started getting emotionally invested in the cinematic image.

Finding Community
Suzuki had a difficult time acclimating to Amherst because she realized that her International Baccalaureate program in high school didn’t necessarily prepare her well for reading and writing at Amherst. “I started problematizing myself because it seemed like everyone else was perfectly succeeding,” Suzuki said. “Then I started realizing that that wasn’t the case and that Amherst just demands a lot from its students.”

She began really loving Amherst when she felt a very tangible community forming around her, “and I think it’s ultimately about the community that you actively make,” she said. During her junior year, she moved to the Zü and felt isolated by a lack of community.

“I got really sad,” Suzuki said. “But Professor Burns reached out to me after three weeks of class because she noticed that I was acting differently. I think that Professor Burns saved me from a really difficult semester, which actually turned to be one of the best semesters here. She was actively conscious and reached out to me. It was a very touching moment and I hope to do the same for others that are suffering here. I think the community is available and finding it is essential to succeeding here.”

Throughout the rest of her time at Amherst, Suzuki continued working to give back. Not only did Suzuki work as a Diversity Intern to create a more inclusive community, but she also expanded, integrated and strengthened DASAC and worked tirelessly on the small things, like reaching out to strangers. “I think the most harmful myth at Amherst is that everybody has it together, so reassuring people that we’re all a mess is really important,” Suzuki said.

“The resilience I’ve created at Amherst based on who supports me is what I will carry on with me into the rest of my life,” Suzuki said. She believes that her investment in relationships and communities, as well as the friendships she has developed over time, are what shaped Amherst to be the college experience she will always remember.

Suzuki hopes that after she leaves Amherst, the college will do a better job of supporting the needs of its diverse community.
“I have a lot of faith in the new chief diversity officer,” Suzuki said. “It’s hard to say that you’re going to create a cultural shift and that things are going to change within a semester, but I think the new officer will be someone who is always talking to students and who is committed to integrating the faculty and staff.”

She explained that her job on the search committee was to think about whether the officer was going to stand up for the students who need it. “It all goes back to the Tony Marx administration that diversified the student body so quickly and didn’t allow the institution to change along with it,” Suzuki said. “But I personally think it’s important to bring those conversations outside of structured spaces in order to work towards genuine diversity.”

After college, Suzuki will be working as a paralegal in New York City with an Amherst alumnus. She hopes to go to law school or grad school in public policy. She became interested in public policy after taking a class called Politics of Place with Burns and learning about housing policy and gentrification. This made her want to work reforming housing policy.

“It comes down to how much is associated with where you’re born — like you can estimate what your income is going to be and your real estate taxes will be based off of this, by virtue of something that you really can’t control,” Suzuki said.

Suzuki’s interest in social activism also greatly influenced her desire to go into law. “I think there’s something so magnetic about law and its ability to very tangibly change the world. Even though the process might appear futile, you can still change a small piece of someone’s life — especially through public policy,” she said.

Idan Cohen, the director of the dance opera in which Suzuki starred this year, described Suzuki in a way that summarizes the energetic force behind the legacies she is leaving behind on campus. “Miu holds a rare combination of natural talent, intelligence, discipline and generosity,” Cohen said. “It is not every day that you get to work with such a talented student, who is also eager to learn and listen.”