Students from over 30 partner schools — as close as the Ohio State University and as far as the University of Colorado – Boulder — attended the Midwest Asian American Students Union conference to participate in conversations about intersectionality and social justice while also building networks with other people from different Asian-American cultures.
LSA juniors Queena Zhao and Katty Wu and Business junior Sungjee Dianne Ro served as a few of the chairs for the conference, organizing the summit and coordinating with other executive board members.
“We just wanted to really emphasize the point that, as minority groups, we need to stand together in solidarity to be stronger together,” Zhao said. “Because this only happens every four years at Michigan, we’re hoping that the students who are freshmen and sophomores this year can take this conference and just learn about social activism within Asian-American communities and be inspired to take on leadership roles.”
The conference featured a keynote speaker and an opening ceremony, which were followed by different workshops that focused on topics ranging from different entrepreneurial roles to empowerment in the workplace.
“The most important part of our conference is the workshops,” Ro added. “So we invited over 75 different workshop facilitators and we’re having around 50 different workshops covering a variety of topics that relate to (Asian/Pacific Islander) identities as well as different social justice issues. A big highlight of our conference is really inciting social activism within our attendees.”
The conference began with a few words from E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, as she stressed the importance of community support.
“As you take on major leadership roles, these are your peers and colleagues that you will be working with and that you will be interacting with, helping us change this world,” Harper said.
State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D–Detroit) served as the keynote speaker for the event. Along with being the first Asian American to serve in the Michigan Legislature, she’s also had years of experience working as a community organizer in Detroit and cited her diverse background and involvement with organizations as integral to her journey.
She mentioned the murder of Vincent Chin, who was severely beaten in Detroit by two white men in 1982, and cited this as an important part of Asian-American history.
“I sort of had two separate identities — on the weekends, I’d go to Chinese school and learn about the language and culture, and then the whole rest of the week, I was my normal, American self,” Chang said. “It wasn’t until high school, learning about Vincent Chin, learning about our communities, our history that a lot of things started to come together and make a lot more sense.”
Chang talked about the rise in hate crimes, and the fact that, though every immigrant’s journey is different, as they all come from different backgrounds, ethnicities and income levels, they are all united by the journey itself.
“Our families came to this country believing in America, in an America that upholds the values of fairness, opportunity and equity,” she said. “As a country, we decided that barring people from coming to America was not who we are, it was anti-American. Interning people just because of their ethnicity is un-American.”