Andover Holds Asian Conference

With groundbreaking political figures like Lisa Wong and academics like Paul Kiang, Asian Society’s inaugural conference brought together Asian, Asian-American and mixed-heritage Asian students from independent secondary schools this past Sunday at Andover. The conference, titled “Asian American Footsteps: Tracing our Past, Defining Our Future,” included over 150 students and faculty members from more than 12 schools, including St. Paul’s School, Northfield Mount Hermon School, Brooks School, Phillips Exeter Academy, The Willston Northampton School, Milton Academy, Noble and Greenough, Pingree School, Cambridge School of Weston, Middlesex School and Kings Collegiate Charter School. Seyoung Lee ‘12, Co-President of Asian Society, said, “A lot of times, the Asian American voice is put in the background, and I just thought it would be a great day to actually be in the forefront of what people are talking about. The conference definitely surpassed what we had planned.” Aya Murata, advisor to Asian and Asian American students and the coordinator of the conference, said the conference helped address the unique perspective of Asian, Asian American and mixed-heritage Asian students at boarding schools. Murata said, “Because of the locations of previous conferences we’ve attended, the high school students who participated tended to be from public day schools. There seemed to be a missing component of what it means to be a boarding student or a student attending an independent school.” Su Chin Pak, MTV News Team correspondent and the host and producer of the MTV documentary series My Life Translated, served as the conference’s keynote speaker. Pak spoke about her experiences growing up in America as an Asian American and her struggle to define her identity. She encouraged students to be proud of themselves about who they are and stressed the importance of dialogue. Pak said, “In America, we live outside the cultural boundaries that are defined by someone else. The trick is to celebrate who you are, where you come from and your particular experience while still being fully engaged in the community around.” “That’s the nuance of being an Asian American in today’s society,” she added. Throughout the day, conference participants engaged in two of out of the seven workshops that were offered. The conference workshops discussed topics such as the role of Asian American history, the portrayal of Asians in the media, life in college as an Asian or Asian American, parental expectations, model minority myth, experiences as Asians and Asian Americans in independent schools and Asian Americans in politics. Workshop speakers included professors from prominent universities as well as Wong, the mayor of Fitchburg, MA and the first Asian female mayor in Massachusetts. Many of the workshops were discussion based, and provided opportunities for students to share their experiences, as well as the wisdom and experiences of the adult moderators. Peter Kiang, Professor and Director of the Asian American Studies Program at he University of Massachusetts Boston, hoped students attending his workshop, Asians Portrayed in the Media, “would be aware of some of the experiences of Asian students in the urban Boston area and to really respect Asian American studies as a field.” Narayan Plourde, a student from the Pingree School, said, “The workshop speaker we had, John Lin, spoke very personally from his own life, and that was pretty interesting. His workshop affirmed some of my convictions about being a proud individual of who I am.” Planning for the conference started last spring when Murata approached the Asian Society board. “The idea of a conference for independent school students has been percolating with me for a number of years and it just seemed like the timing was right. I needed a board that would be willing to throw themselves into it,” said Murata. In addition to the Asian Society board, Murata also invited willing Asian, Asian American and mixed-heritage Asian students at Phillips Academy to be on the conference planning committee. Elisa Li ’11, Co-president of Asian Society, said that students on the planning committee came up with ideas for the workshops based on feelings that they believed Asian American students faced at independent schools.