Org of the Week: Asian Students’ Alliance fosters inclusion

Captured here are members of the Asian Students’ Alliance during one of their weekly General Board meetings, which are integral to planning the semester’s interesting events./ Courtesy of the Asian Students' Alliance

As one of the largest student-run identity orgs on Vassar’s campus, the Asian Students’ Alliance (ASA) is not slowing down any time soon. From weekly General Body [GB] and Executive Board meetings to extensive campus-wide initiatives and programming, the ASA has been incredibly successful in reaching large portions of the Vassar community.

Vassar’s ASA has been around for decades—at least since the early 1990s—though the organization grows and develops with each incoming class. Today, according to the org’s Facebook page, its mission is “to develop a strong sense of identity and to educate the larger community about the issues concerning Asians and Asian Americans.” The statement continues, “ASA will provide support to its members and serve as a body to represent, to the best of its ability, the distinct cultures of all of the members of ASA. ASA’s support extends to the community of color at large, as well as other social awareness groups.”

This semester, the ASA plans to turn out several org- and campus-wide events. President Nicole Kormendi ’20 spoke on one of these programs in particular: “Our biggest event of the semester is Lunar New Year! ASA will be having a dinner, and we’re collaborating with the Chinese Students’ Community and the Southeast Asian Students’ Alliance to host it.”

Treasurer Megan Wang ’20 expressed the personal meaning of this holiday, saying, “Lunar New Year has got just a special place in my heart because I celebrate it at home. And then when you can’t do it at home, it’s really, really nice to have that space here.” The dinner will take place on Feb. 17 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Villard Room. Tickets are available in the Mug alcove this week.

In addition to programs like the Lunar New Year celebration, the ASA has also been a part of a campus-wide movement actively working toward reforming the Asian Studies department at Vassar College. Kormendi explained the movement in more detail: “Currently, the Asian Studies department is very lacking in that it has no Asian American Studies courses and very few non–East Asian focused courses.” She continued, “This is problematic because East Asian narratives are generally given more visibility than Southeast Asian and South Asian narratives, especially in the U.S. Also, a lack of Asian American Studies perpetuates the exclusion and silencing of these voices.”

With a working group that meets every week and an online petition boasting over 700 signatures, this initiative has gained remarkable momentum. Wang stressed: “This is not something new, it’s been around. Students demanding Asian American Studies courses is not something that started just this year.”

Outside of the ASA’s many events and initiatives, several Executive Board members expressed their desire to work more closely with other Asian identity groups in the coming months. Media Chair Heather Phan Nguyen ’20 elaborated: “Something we talk about a lot is how our title is the ‘umbrella org’ for Asian-identifying students.” She went on, “I feel like our org has somehow gotten the reputation of being the East Asian Students’ Alliance instead of the Asian Students’ Alliance, and so we’re trying really hard to be more inclusive with our programming and events that we put out.”

Kormendi explained how the ASA is already working towards this goal: “Something we’ve done to start dialogue about this is have an umbrella-org meeting with other pan-Asian orgs like SEASA and SASA…just to think about the ways in which we can better support each other and communicate. We had some really good conversation at this meeting, and we’re actually having a dinner on Monday with everyone to foster more dialogue.”

When asked about their reasons for being a part of the ASA’s Executive Board, all interviewees agreed: the community and passion behind the org’s members is what kept them coming back. Administrative Liaison Janrey Serapio ’20 explained: “I decided to come onto Executive Board this year because ASA was really just a home for me last year. I wanted to recreate that for this year’s first-years.”

Nguyen agreed that ASA is fundamentally a space of belonging and inclusion. She remarked: “I think the thing that keeps me coming back is getting to do things with people who are equally as passionate about it as I am. Also, just getting to know people through our GB meetings and working together with first-years to create a space that we all love and enjoy. It’s just so home-y!”

Wang emphasised that managing ASA can be stressful. She commented, “Running an identity org is no walk in the park. But, it’s just so rewarding because at the end of the day it’s just so worth it. The work is so important.” Indeed, between programming, academic initiatives and regular meetings, Vassar’s ASA has been working harder than ever, and this work has had a significant impact on Vassar’s community.

Kormendi concluded: “My favorite part is that my job as president is to create a space in which students feel comfortable and feel at home. I think that’s really powerful because being a POC on this campus at times can feel pretty isolating. It’s just really nice to have a group of people who share similar experiences and who are supporting and friendly.”

Ultimately, ASA’s blend of inclusive events and passionate leadership ensure that its members can truly call the org home.

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