Chinese Students Association reaps rewards from overhauling executive board


Photo courtesy of Annie Tsui

The executive board of the Chinese Students Association. The club counts more than 500 members among its ranks.

Sterling Kossuth Ortiz, Senior Staffer

McCormick senior Haolan Zhan joined the Chinese Students Association’s junior executive board as a freshman in 2019. But his tenure was short-lived: before the 2020-21 academic year, CSA reformed its intake process from the ground up, including abolishing the junior executive board. 

Zhan, currently CSA’s external president, said he was proud of the changes he has witnessed during his time in the club.

“The new president of the organization got rid of that hierarchy of membership and made it just a little bit more inclusive.” Zhan said. “You would just have the exec board and then general members, and then anybody would be able to join as a general member.”

According to its fall 2022 orientation guide, CSA recognizes and condemns its “past colloquial associations to Greek Life and the exclusionary practices that were conducted until 2020.” The statement comes after students have advocated in recent years to Abolish Greek Life on NU’s campus. 

The guide does not elaborate on the club’s associations with Greek life.

Community Development co-Chair Katie He, a Weinberg junior, joined CSA in spring 2021. She said she was drawn to the group after watching CSA and the Taiwanese American Students Association’s 2021 Celebrasia show online and hearing about its “tight-knit” community.

“The biggest thing that I really enjoyed was the level of reaching out from upperclassmen,” He said. “My mentor Haolan was really involved, and he introduced us to a lot of people within our families and within our dynasties, which is how CSA is organized.”

A traditional part of the group, CSA’s four dynasties encompass all 550 of its members  — which is a fourfold increase over its member count during the 2019-20 academic year.

When a student joins CSA, the executive board matches them with a dynasty and, if the new member wishes, a mentor from that dynasty. 

Zhan said he greatly enjoys the dynasty system. He thinks the dynasties instill pride in the members and forge friendships.

“It’s always fun to have that pride and banter with other members and dynasties like, ‘My dynasty is the best!’ ‘No, my dynasty is the best!’” Zhan said. “It’s just a matter of who you meet, what dynasty you end up in and what community you can build there.”

According to Zhan, each of the 17 dynasty heads are part of the 39-person executive board, making up more than two-fifths of the board. Dynasty head responsibilities include representing their members in official capacities and planning dynasty events.  

McCormick and Communication senior Annie Tsui, internal president of CSA, is the parallel to Zhan’s role. Her responsibilities include encouraging club cohesion as its numbers have grown quickly.

“Seeing those membership numbers grow has definitely been a particularly proud moment for me,” Tsui said. “We’ve also invited a lot of really cool speakers that are really important because of how we all grew up under the Asian American identities.”

Speaker events that Tsui has helped organize featured YouTubers Steven Lim and Mike Chen and actor Arden Cho, who was the club’s 2022 fall speaker.

Tsui said she joined CSA to be part of an organization that uplifts East Asian culture. She said she views being Chinese American as a product of a heritage lasting thousands of years, with particular pride in its language, food and culture.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have grown up in China for a little bit, but oftentimes, people will come to Northwestern, and there just wasn’t that many Asians to explore that culture unless it was from their family,” Tsui said. “It’s really great that we’re able to develop a community here where people can freely explore and choose to explore, at their own rate, what their identity means to them.”

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