Every spring, the Asian American Footsteps Conference (AAFC) gathers together over three hundred Asian-identifying students from various independent schools in the New England region. Founded in 2011 by Aya Murata, College Counselor and former Advisor to Asian and Asian American Students at Andover, the conference aims to create a community where Asian-identifying students can embrace and learn about the cultures they come from. The annual conference includes several keynote speakers and workshops, many of which are student-run.
Prior to the AAFC, Murata often brought Asian-identifying students to other student conferences for people of color. She realized that many students felt marginalized at those events because there was a lack of reflection on the Asian experience. That sparked the idea for a student conference for Asian-identifying students in particular, so over the course of the three years that followed, the idea was developed into the Asian American Footsteps Conference.
“Students would go to those conferences and then feel like there wasn’t anything that spoke to them being Asian in those spaces. After hearing that enough times, I thought about creating our own conference. I floated the idea with a couple of my student leaders, because students needed to be excited by the idea for it to work. I worked with my students and my Asian-identifying colleagues to develop the elements that we wanted the conference to focus on and the goals of the conference,” said Murata.
The first Asian American Footsteps Conference, titled “Asian American Footsteps: Tracing our Past, Defining Our Future,” resulted with an unexpected turnout, gathering over 150 attendees from twelve schools in the area. To continue the conference into an annual event, Murata contacted friends at other independent high schools and asked if they would be interested in hosting the event and expanding it to more schools.
“After the first conference, I didn’t want it to just be a one time thing. That would be kind of sad. I asked a friend of mine, Vivian Wong, who’s the equivalent of the Asian Society faculty advisor at Milton Academy, ‘Would you want to do this same sort of thing?’ Then it became a shared ownership around this conference, so every year, another school in the area would host it. That’s how the Asian American Footsteps Conference came to be,” said Murata.
The AAFC features several keynote speakers and workshops every year. This year’s speakers were Jujubee, a singer, drag queen, and comedian, and Dr. Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn, an educator, speaker, and learning facilitator. Several Andover students attending the conference, including Kelly Bu ’23 and Nick Liu ’23, created workshops on intergenerational trauma and masculine binaries in Asian and Asian American spaces.
Liu said, “Kelly and I prepared a workshop on perceptions of Asian American success. The way that we did that was just by talking about our own stories and how success has been presented to us as young Asian American people. The workshop went well, and we ended on a positive note about spreading joy. I think a lot of people resonated [with the topic].”
According to Bu, the AAFC conference is a great place for students who are curious about their Asian identity to learn more and connect with other students who share similar experiences. Bu was able to relate to many of the workshops that she attended and had the chance to reflect on her own experiences as an Asian-identifying student during the event.
“A lot of us were able to connect with each other about the experience itself, and overall, it was a good emotional moment to reflect on our own experiences, and also bond with other people from other schools and at Andover itself. I think sometimes there’s a lot of sadness around our identities because of how difficult it has been and how there’s a lot of things that have happened that are really bad—they’re really horrible,” said Bu.
Murata believes that the Asian American Footsteps Conference has inspired many Asian-identifying students to learn more about and connect with their identity. She hopes that the conference has also enabled students to reaffirm pride in their Asian identity and think more about the different identities within the Asian community.
“I’ve worked at Andover for 30 years and I’ve done a variety of different things. This is definitely one of the standouts. I feel like I’ve really made an impact in creating this space for students who I don’t think had that space before. To feel like you’re really seen for who you are and understood for the various different experiences that you bring, I think it’s pretty awesome,” said Murata.