Asian-American students attend leadership conference in Washington


The summit marked an opportunity to exchange ideas with other campus leaders across the country




While many Penn students were busy with their first week of classes, some Asian-American students spent a day in Washington to discuss issues facing people from the Asia-Pacific region.

Last week, 14 Penn students attended the White House Asian-American and Pacific Islanders Youth Leadership Briefing, which involved about 200 high-school and college students from across the nation.

The day-long conference — which was held on Jan. 12 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, located next door to the White House — consisted of two parts.

Student participants engaged in a panel discussion, as well as individual group discussions, about topics ranging from undocumented students, public engagement and White House initiatives related to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

One of the prominent panelists was Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development and a 2002 Penn Medicine graduate.

“The more I hear about the issues that are brought up, the more I realize that many students at Penn are lucky because Penn provides a lot of resources specifically to Asian students,” Engineering junior and Asian Pacific Student Coalition Chair Michelle Leong said. “Many other campuses do not have resources and programs as we do.”

She added that last week’s summit also marked a good opportunity to exchange ideas with other campus leaders across the country.

“Being among those students was a blessing for me because at Penn, activism is mostly focused on student organizations [considering] what they can do on campus,” College and Wharton senior Jenny Fan said. “Going to the White House and meeting others really gave me a different prospective.”

One of the issues that Penn students in attendance brought up was how to revamp the University’s Asian-American Studies Program, according to College sophomore Nishat Shahabuddin, APSC’s vice chair of political affairs.

“It was cool to network and exchange advice on things that [attendees] can do on this issue,” Shahabuddin said.

Student attendees agreed that continued support from both Penn and the government is necessary to raise awareness about the issues discussed during the conference.

“Oftentimes we would like to think that America has made progress in terms of racial issues,” Leong said. “Of course we have, but sometimes [it seems like] everything is fixed but it’s actually not.”

Penn’s Asian American and Pacific Islander population, which comprises more than 20 percent of the undergraduate student body, should also consider what they can do to help others in need, Fan said.

“Many [Asian] students want to go into the professional service industry, and not that many students are interested in going into government service or the public sector in general,” she added. “There is a separation between community service and [a] professional career, and I think exposing students to these conferences will encourage them to consider a different career.”

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