Over multiple nights last semester, members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association (AAA) thumbed through the College’s yearbooks from 1974 to 2005 to tag students who looked to be of Asian or Asian American descent.
Their goal? To build a list of Asian and Asian American alumni to invite for their first ever reunion, which took place Saturday night in Dudley House.
Since the College does not record ethnic identity in its alumni files, the group followed this strategy which was first employed by the Black Students Association to build its own invitation list, according to AAA members.
“We don’t keep racial tags in our database,” said Hoopes Wampler, director of College alumni programs at the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA).
The reunion, hosted by AAA and cosponsored by 11 other Asian-oriented organizations on campus, was packed with 125 students and alumni—surpassing the target of 100 attendees.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in building an Asian and Asian American alumni community, but up until now there’s been no natural way for that to happen,” said Nelson Wang ’92, who came with friends from New York to attend.
The reunion was also an effort to encourage more students to be involved in Harvard’s affairs after graduation. According to Wampler, Asians and Asian Americans are not well-represented in Harvard’s bureaucracy.
At the reunion, nomination forms for positions on the Board of Overseers and as elected directors on HAA were available.
Organizers said they hoped that the evening would set a “precedent” for many future Asian and Asian American alumni events, and build a better network for the growing Asian and Asian American alumni community, something that according to recent graduate Jenny Huang ’03 “hasn’t been so strong.”
The event also marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the AAA, the first-ever Asian organization on campus.
Elizabeth Chang ’88, who said she has not kept in close contact with the College, said she decided to attend the gathering when she saw that one of the groups she had helped co-found in 1986, Taiwanese Cultural Society, was co-sponsoring the reunion.
The event featured important leaders like Chang in the history of Asian organizations at Harvard—such as five past presidents of the AAA and two past presidents of the Korean Association.
The event’s keynote speaker, Fred Ho ’79, was an original founder of the AAA in 1976 and said he was a main participant in what he called a 1970s movement to include Asian and Asian Americans in Harvard’s on-campus programs targeting minorities.
He recalled meeting with a dean and staging protests on campus to ask Harvard to recognize Asians and Asian Americans as minorities in programs, rather than just official enrollment statistics.
Decades later, current AAA President Sanby Lee ’08 said the goal is now to facilitate “the growing recognition of a more unified Asian community” within Harvard.