Ingrid Hu Dahl's Learning Story


I grew up in a space in-between. A mixed race child who predominantly spoke Mandarin and “Chinglish” until about the age of four or five, I remember having a really difficult time in school. I must have sensed the discrimination from the parking lot. Once my parents and I passed through the doors and into the hallways, I wanted to run right back out of elementary school. I was curious enough to stay, but I started crying, which my teacher disliked; she responded by slapping me in the face. This was the start of a series of confusing incidences that sharpened my observations (over time) about privilege. I remember not being able to play with the blocks if specific children were playing. I remember being treated like I had a learning disability because of my dual language inter-mixing. My metaphor and visual landscape of communication was often shot down in favor for what I saw as the quite boring and rigid English version of expression–filled with grammar and spelling critiques. I recall attending special kid classes with the delinquent boys and wondering what on earth placed me there. Being in that class made me observe what adults considered “delinquent.” It usually stood for a space to place the misunderstood. Kindergarten might have affected the next few years of education for me, which was a difficult process to overcome, but better teachers, determination, and questioning the process of learning and the dynamics of power began to inform and encourage my learning experience. Some exceptional teachers made sincere connections to my growth, challenging my preconceived notions and stretching the limits of what is possible. These teachers also gave me alternative knowledge outside the school curriculum–knowledge of artist activists like Barbara Kruger and the power of the camera–as well as access to interview what seemed unthinkable at the time–the first gay male couple to adopt in New Jersey. These teachers served as guides that helped piston-open the doorway of my eager, inquiring mind. The learning methods and environments I now create echo the alternative, empowering and inquisitive experiences I had in high school and college. The tools that I use and continue to modify and evolve, contributes to new generations I work with, who benefit from the perspective-expanding and consciousness-building I’ve gained, and continue to experience, in my personal and evolving life.