Area Taiwanese College Students Gather
More than 200 students from nearby colleges wrestled with issues of Taiwanese politics, identity, careers and culture Saturday at the first annual conference of the Boston Intercollegiate Taiwanese Students Association (BITSA).
The conference, organized by BITSA and the Harvard Taiwanese Cultural Society, featured high-profile panelists and covered a wide range of topics.
Conference organizers hoped to "give everyone sort of a basic education of Taiwan," said Loretta E. Kim '99, one of the program's co-chairs.
The keynote speaker was Dr. David Ho, named Time's Man of the Year in 1996 for his HIV research. Ho spoke about his work in the medical field before turning to more personal stories about his immigration to the United States.
The speech, which was open to Harvard students as well as conference attendees, drew mixed reviews.
Victor Chang, a sophomore at MIT, said he was disappointed by the "cut-and-paste" similarity to a speech Ho gave at MIT's commencement last year.
Other students said they were impressed with Ho's speech.
"I liked how he presented both his work and personal background," said Tien-Tien T. Chen, a sophomore at Brown University.
"In some ways it was inspiring to see someone from your same [ethnic] background achieve such a high status," said Belinda S. Chen, a Brown first-year.
The conference also included panel discussions on topics ranging from religion in Taiwanese society to political development to "non-conventional" careers. One of the more popular work-shops, titled "Beyond Bruce Lee," featured demonstrations of dance and martial arts.
At a well-attended discussion on Taiwan's political reform, panelists spoke about conditions in the country before martial law was lifted.
"For a long time people in Taiwan didn't even have the right to elect their president or the mayor of Taipei or Kaohsiung, " said Parris Chang, a professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University.
"[Under martial law,] your freedom of the press, freedom of speech and assembly... they've all been restricted," Chang explained.
At a discussion titled "On the Beaten Track," three young professionals talked to the audience about careers in law, business and medicine.
Several questions posed to the panel concerned discrimination. The panelists agreed that in their professions there was no discrimination against Asians and Asian-Americans.
"If you write a good brief, no one really cares what you look like," said Edward Cheng, a lawyer with Hill & Barlow in Boston. "As long as you're wearing a suit."
Hill & Barlow represents The Crimson in legal matters.
The conference largely drew students interested in learning about Taiwanese society and culture. Elaina D. Lin '99 called the conference her "culturally-aware day."
Frances C. Chang '01, questioned the benefit of such a heavy emphasis on asserting Taiwanese identity.
"They're making a very clear distinction between Chinese and Taiwanese," Chang said. "It tends to be very exclusive. It pits people who are Chinese against people who are Taiwanese."
Chang said she was expecting this kind of thinking to dominate the conference and was glad that this wasn't the case.
"My opinions have changed as a result of some of what was said today," she said. "That's reassuring."