Asian-American students seek full-time adviser

Wailin Wong

With an Asian-American studies minor available after almost a decade of struggle, Asian student organizations have turned their sights toward hiring an adviser to mentor and support them.

The Asian-American Task Force, created by the Asian-American studies office Fall Quarter to promote the minor and bring Asian student leaders together, plans to meet with administrators this quarter to ask for a full-time Asian-American professional.

“(An adviser) will be a focal point for Asian and Asian-American students to go get regular advice, develop programming and be a liaison between the community and administrator,” said Huy Trinh, task force member and former Asian American Advisory Board chairman. “Along with the Asian-American minor, that’s been a driving force for the existence of AAAB.”

The task force, which consists of three staff members and 14 students who represent Asian student groups, resembles AAAB when it was formed about 10 years ago – a coalition of student group presidents. AAAB members say unity dwindled over time as group leaders focused on their own programming.

But with the task force rallying them around the common goals of promoting the minor and hiring an adviser, leaders say they are hopeful they will recapture and improve cooperation between the groups.

LEADERSHIP IN LIMBO

As the umbrella Asian organization on campus, AAAB is designed to be a resource and support network for its member organizations. But AAAB faced its own problems this year after losing two of its chairmen.

In November, Wayne Wu resigned his position after failing to obtain the proper signature on a last-minute contract for a AAAB-sponsored event. Associated Student Government senators revoked Wu’s privilege to sign his group’s financial papers, forcing him to step down.

Wu, a McCormick senior, distributed a letter to ASG senators last week explaining his actions.

“I’m disappointed with the decision for many reasons,” he said. “As a result, our organization has lost six months of progress. I’m proud to say (AAAB executive board members) have done a very good job, and they are finally getting things under way again, but a lot of things have just been delayed.”

AAAB members said they hope they can bounce back from last quarter’s setback.

“We were all very disappointed that we lost a good leader, but we didn’t lose momentum,” said Trinh, who replaced Wu as chairman. “We felt we had to prove to the community that we are a capable group.”

But on Sunday, Trinh announced to the executive board that he was leaving school for personal reasons.

Trinh, a Weinberg junior, was replaced by former Vice Chairwoman Grace Lee, who said the leadership shifts will not damage AAAB.

“AAAB is not just one person who’s in charge,” said Lee, a Weinberg junior. “I think the board is so strong that I won’t have a problem.”

Lee said her goal for the next few months is to focus on AAAB-sponsored events, including a formal and a dance troupe performance.

AAAB also hopes to improve cohesion among its eight member organizations – a long-standing issue within the organization, said AAAB Education/Action Chairwoman Marie Claire Tran.

“We’re going to strive (to) establish AAAB as an organization that provides resources for our member organizations, not (one that is) above them in some sort of hierarchy,” said Tran, a Weinberg senior. “If something comes up that affects the Asian-American community, we want to bring them together so we have a unified voice. I think we have an image as a separate entity, and we don’t want that.”

And at least one attempt this year to change that image failed when member groups backed out of a planned event. AAAB organized a fall retreat for student group presidents, but plans fell through when several clubs scheduled their own New Student Week activities and backed out.

“I hate to say it, but that was a flop,” Trinh said. “It was a really hard thing for us that they didn’t want to reschedule their events. On our part, we had not recognized the weekend was problematic.”

Asian student groups often do not discuss event planning with one another, leading to similar programs that compete for the same audience, said Medill sophomore Angela Kye, president of the Korean-American Students Association.

For example, she said, the Korean association, AAAB and the Chinese Students Association all hold their own service auctions.

“I think the reason (AAAB) has changed a lot is because we’ve lost the original leadership of the different pan-Asian clubs,” Wu said. “We want to work together. It’s a matter of rediscovering how to do that.”

BACK ON TASK

With the Asian-American Task Force bringing student leaders together, Kye said she hopes communication will improve between member organizations.

Because the task force is run by the Asian-American studies office, it is not directly related to AAAB. But the organizations share similar goals.

“We’re pooling our efforts together,” said Purvi Shah, president of the South Asian Students Alliance. “(The task force) is a good way for all the groups to network together. There’s been a lack of that.”

Ziehyun Huh, program assistant in the Asian-American studies office, leads the task force along with two other staff members. Huh said the staff would look to students to determine their own goals.

“I’m definitely very pro-student ownership and for them to set the agenda,” she said.

Huh leads the task force along with Elvin Chan, associate program director for the Undergraduate Leadership Program, and Shane Carlin, an area coordinator for Undergraduate Residential Life.

The task force’s goal to hire an Asian-American student affairs professional has its roots in a 1991 AAAB proposal to the administration that asked for an adviser to establish an Asian-American studies program.

Both the black and Latino communities have student affairs professionals who serve as links between students and university services, providing support for cultural, academic and personal concerns.

The Asian-American studies office finds itself having to double as a student affairs resource center, Chan said.

“There isn’t anybody who is Asian-American and working full time to advise the Asian-American students,” Chan said. “The (Asian-American studies) program is not a student affairs program. They are the sole beacon on campus, and it’s supposed to be an academic program, but they’ll field calls from anything.”

Trinh said the presence of an Asian-American professional would benefit Asian student groups by providing continuity from one generation of students to the next.

Because the task force is composed of student leaders, the goals of student groups and the task force often overlap.

But student leaders say a greater awareness of Asian-American issues, hiring a student affairs professional and increased unity of the Asian-American community would benefit all Asian students, not just those involved in clubs.

“I think the task force is a wonderful accessory to AAAB,” said Vishal Vaid, a task force member and Weinberg senior. “I think AAAB’s initial intentions were identical to what the task force is trying to do now – the task force is a middle man between AAAB and the (Asian-American studies) office. I think that blurring that it’s creating is a very effective one.”