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Asian American Students Discuss Intersectionality at Conference

By Hannah Smati, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: February 24, 2015, at 1:15 a.m.

The Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association hosted the East Coast Asian American Student Union annual conference this weekend, the largest Asian American student conference in the United States with over 1,200 students participating this year.

“It’s been one and a half years of planning,” said Diana K. Nguyen ’15, conference co-director and former president of AAA. “ECAASU is the Asian-American political identity Olympics.”

Spanning from Friday to Sunday, the ECAASU conference consisted of workshops, keynote speaker panels, and socials all focusing around issues in the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

“We want to have conversations about the new Asian American,” Nguyen said. “We’re really emphasizing this intersectionality—how do sexuality, gender, and citizenship all play into these issues?”

According to Nguyen, the 2015 conference is the first time it has taken place in Boston in more than 20 years. The conference is hosted each year at a different university, and this year it was put on in collaboration with Asian American student groups from five other schools in the Boston area.

The opening ceremony in Memorial Church Friday evening kicked off with musical and spoken word pieces by Asian American artists such as DANakaDAN and Dumbfoundead as well as a performance by Northeastern’s competitive fusion dance team Rangila Rhythms.

The keynote address took place Saturday morning and featured speeches by Harvard history fellow Genevieve A. Clutario, Brandeis student Hin Hon Wong, Chief of Staff to Mayor Martin J. Walsh Daniel A. Koh, and Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana.

In his speech, Khurana described his personal background as an Asian immigrant and commended the conference’s use of workshops and small panels to encourage dialogue, urging the students to ask themselves difficult questions.

“Only a few decades ago, half of humanity was excluded from Harvard’s college education,” he said. “Large scale transformation happens when small groups change the social context.”

The workshops, consisting of small group discussions, focused on a variety of topics within the Asian American community, including mental health, gender inequality, and entrepreneurship. According to Nguyen, a goal of the 2015 conference was to emphasize intersecting social identities in the Asian American community.

Tracy Wang, a senior at Dartmouth who attended the conference, said she felt this intersectional approach to identity was important especially within Asian American communities.

“We talk about intersectionality [in college], but we don’t do that a lot within pan-Asian communities,” she said. “It is fascinating to see what people are thinking and how they are trying to label themselves, but at the same time not fit into stereotypes.”

—Staff writer Hannah Smati can be reached at hannah.smati@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @HannahSmati.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: February 24, 2015

An earlier version of this article misspelled Tracy Wang's last name.

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