The ‘Face Mask’ that Feeds Prejudice


Photo Courtesy of Esther Chinwuko

As part of Atlas Week, the University News Team wants to celebrate the different cultures on SLU’s campus. In order to do this, we have invited the subject of this particular story, Esther Chinwuko, to translate and present it in her native language.

Written in English by Meredyth Staunch:

Sitting at a white table at the front of the library, senior Esther Chinwuko pulls out her computer. She is a senior electrical engineering major, and like many other engineering students, she designates most of her nights to studying. However, Esther also tacks on another component to her nightly routine: practicing English.


Raised in Tokyo and from Japanese and Nigerian descent, Esther knew little English when she came to St. Louis in August 2015, but she also knew that as a woman of color, it was essentially impossible to pursue engineering in Japan. If she were to stay, she would have needed to set herself up for success when she was 7 years old by attending a good elementary school—a luxury that her family could not afford.


Esther was also turned off of the “sameness” of Japan. “When I was growing up, I never had the opportunity to see a role model, someone who was similar to me,” she said. “Every time I went outside, I only saw similar people, who did not look like me. They were all from the entertainment side too, like singers, dancers or comedians. No one was involved in the professional field.”


As a result, she sought out attending an American university to help propel her future career. Esther had a connection to a SLU student at the time, who was also Japanese, and who pushed Esther to visit. SLU provides a website for prospective Japanese students to connect to American students at any university. During ATLAS Week, Esther provides this link to students, with the intention of helping more international students attend SLU. There are currently three Japanese students enrolled at the University.


It was through her involvement in SGA as an international affairs senator that Esther learned about ATLAS Week. She learned of the Parade of Nations, which is usually held at the end of ATLAS week, and of which would allow her to represent her country by carrying its flag.


“I was very interested in [ATLAS Week] because you are able to share your culture with others,” Esther said. “You get to learn from other people as well, and this is a once-a-year big event. This is my fourth year participating in ATLAS.”


This year, Esther gave a new presentation called “Face Mask,” which took place on Monday. Her goal was to shatter misconceptions about others based on appearance. “When we see each other, there is a first impression,” she said. “We don’t want to judge people – like when you see me, I am black – but there is a stereotype there. We all have a switching code for why we behave, but you sometimes can’t tell based off of first impressions.” Esther’s presentation consisted of an open dialogue about identity.


ATLAS Week is a time when international and domestic students can come together to learn about cultures they are not familiar with. Esther noted that she sees many students during the week that she did not realize attended SLU. “SLU as a whole isn’t diverse, but during ATLAS Week, you feel like it is because of all of the new people you meet,” Esther said. “The hope is that people should learn and want to go to different countries, and I want others to have an interest in different cultures.”

Translated to Japanese by Esther Chinwuko:




また彼女は大学一年生の時からATLASのメンバーであり、彼女にとって今年は四回目である。今回、彼女はATLASの一つのイベント”Face Mask” を手掛けた。フェイスマスクとは、皆色んな人に会う時、人それぞれ違う顔(お面)がある、でもそれはどうしてなのだろうか?人に気を使っているからか?それとも本当の自分を他人に見せたくないからか?人々は、自分が想像しているように自分を見てくれているのだろうか?そんな事をみんなで深く話し合うことができ、様々な意見を討論できる素晴らしい機会でった。

ATLASは一年に一度皆が一つになり、自分の文化の有り難みを改めて知ることが出来る一週間である。彼女は”ATLASは、ただ座って参加するイベントでない。各国の色々な人々と会話することによって、初めてお互いを理解できるイベントである。この一週間が皆様にとって忘れられない素晴らしいATLAS week になり、そしてこのイベントによって自分の国の文化に自信を持ち、それを多くの人々にシェアしてもらえたら嬉しい。と語っていた。