Kim: For cultural organizations, simply being is enough
March 31, 2017
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Whenever I reflect on my life at Northwestern, I often realize that I dedicate far too much of my time to extracurriculars, a large portion of which goes toward the Korean American Student Association. Though I know and have even felt the effects of sometimes not prioritizing my school work, I, for some reason, continue to pour my energy into KASA. It’s always been hard for me to articulate exactly why — at least beyond the usual, thoughtless response of “connecting with my Korean American identity” — but lately I’ve been thinking about why this organization actually matters to me, to the degree that it does.
My fellow executive board members and I constantly find ourselves walking a fine line between merely feeling like a social club and, conversely, becoming over-programmed with cultural activities. It’s hard to find that balance, and it seems that as we navigate this campus as a cultural organization, I’m always trying to figure out what we are. Should we be providing a certain something, or is just existing enough?
I will always be the first to defend any cultural organization’s right to simply be. Groups like KASA exist because minority students, who are real and present on this campus, feel reasonable cause to organize. To me, this in and of itself is sufficient predicate for cultural student groups. One of my least favorite criticisms I hear about KASA comes from students who question why so much of our programming is internally focused on promoting fun among our own members and if we ever organize other, more serious activities. Not only do these questions undermine all the free work and energy student leaders put into organizing, but it also functions on the fundamental premise that a cultural organization should be doing more to validate itself. I disagree. Fostering any sense of community — even if that is solely internal — is always a worthy goal, and I have observed many students, myself included, fostering new relationships and better coming to terms with their own identity through their involvement with KASA.
However, I do acknowledge that any cultural organization, just like any other group of people, can affect the environment in which it exists. Especially while being in a position of leadership within KASA, I’ve been questioning what the implications of our presence are. I cannot speak for other student groups, nor do I think that there is any obligation on our part to be doing anything for our campus beyond serving our own minority communities, but I do believe that the space we take up can have great force if and when we want it to. Though I am cautious about using productivity as a gauge for a cultural organization, I believe we can move beyond stagnancy on campus if student groups of different backgrounds work together to achieve greater visibility. Just as I personally strive to support and be more aware of other cultural groups’ efforts, I see great potential in how much more of an impact we could have if non-KASA members were to be more engaged with our activities.
This is likely a conversation with no right answers, but it’s one that I’d like to continue having with the rest of KASA and students in other cultural organizations as well. In short, I’ve come to let go of many of my expectations and goals of what KASA is supposed to be. Of course, we are always striving to reach certain aims and serve our members well, but cultural organizations are one of the few places on a campus like ours where we don’t have to stress about what we should be or need to be doing. As for anything beyond that, I am constantly questioning how we could make our campus better — especially for other minority students — and I encourage other cultural groups to do the same. At the end of the day, though, I realize the reason why I’m so comfortable in my organization is because all we need to do is simply exist together as who we are.
Yvonne Kim is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members at The Daily Northwestern.