CHICAGO – In conjunction with the recognition and celebration of Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, UChicago Athletics will be featuring several student-athletes throughout May. In the first installment of this series, hear from UChicago Men’s Track and Field’s Michael Han as he discusses his experiences in a Q & A format.
Han is a third-year student-athlete from Westlake, Calif., who competes in Sprints for the Maroons. He was a part of the 4×400 medley relay that won the UAA title in 2022 and has earned All-UAA status five times in his career. Han has also been named UAA All-Academic each of the past two years.
Do you feel you battle any assumptions/stereotypes in both your athletic career and generally being of Asian-American or Pacific Islander descent?
Every person who belongs to an ethnic minority group has had assumptions made about them at one point or another. Two commonly made assumptions about Asian-Americans are that we only care about school and that we are unathletic. Of course, both are simultaneously very true and very false! There are Asians who would pay you to do your math homework and there are Asians who wouldn’t touch their own math homework with a ten-foot pole. There are Asians who literally jump out of the gym (my friend Alex Lee, a high jumper on the team, can dunk and he’s 5′ 10″) and there are Asians who couldn’t run a 10-minute mile if their life depended on it.
My (unsolicited) advice for Asian-Americans reading this: do what you love and have an affinity for, believe you can be the best, and remember that you are defined completely by WHO you are, not WHAT you are. Everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses; to let any blanket statement influence how you view yourself would be doing yourself a disservice!
On a more serious note, I think we are moving towards a world in which the burden of battling stereotypes falls less on those they are directed against, and more on those who hold them. People from all groups are achieving excellence in all fields, and their excellence is demanding recognition.
Two examples from our own UChicago community: Victoria Oladipo just graduated from the Pritzker School of Medicine and will be the first black woman in the Mayo Clinic’s orthopedic surgery program. Specific to the Asian-American community on campus, Lyndon Hu scored the game-winning goal in the NCAA quarterfinals and then led our men’s soccer team to their first championship title.
People are recognizing that if they want the best up-and-coming physicians on their team, or if they want to win an NCAA championship, stereotypes have no place in any of that. Any organization that wants to succeed at the highest level must see its people as individuals with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. And individuals will seek out those organizations which create an environment that fosters their personal excellence and collective achievement.
My own sense of empowerment comes from working to improve myself every day, whether it be in my problem sets or at practice, knowing that with every new thing I learn and every tenth of a second I shave off my personal best, I am, as my fellow Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and other minority group members are, making myself into a person who demands recognition.
Who would you describe as your role model in your life and why?
Two people who inspire me on the track are Liu Xiang, the Olympic Champion over 110m hurdles (Athens, 2004) and the former world record holder in that event, as well as Wang Junxia, the Olympic Champion over 5000m (Atlanta, 1996) and the current world record holder in the 3000m.
What is your favorite memory in your athletic career?
Setting the school record in the distance medley relay with Joe Lemna, Jabari Owens, and Cy Chittenden. And then going to Sasquatch Jack’s to order a pork tenderloin sandwich the size of my face.