Penn's 27th annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Week took place virtually for the first time this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually celebrated with free food and community-building performances, Penn students instead celebrated APAHW with Among Us competitions and Zoom concerts this year.
Although the APAHW Board said it was difficult to replicate the excitement of in-person events, many students deemed the online programming a success. The week's signature events — like workshops, a keynote speaker event, a performing arts showcase, and a dinner event in collaboration with the Asian American Studies Program — were all adapted to be held virtually.
TLDR Penn, an event for first-year students to hear from upperclassmen panelists about navigating Penn, kicked off the week on Nov 9. The APAHW Board typically hosts a similar event for first-years in September but delayed the event this year, APAHW Tri-chair and College Junior Sabrina Tian said.
Although the group's first-year event differs each year, Tian said the goal of the event is always for first-years to receive guidance from upperclassmen.
Some of the topics discussed during the panel included experiencing “Penn face,” coping with loneliness, and navigating a new environment, College and Wharton junior Nikhil Gupta, one of the 28 upperclassmen panelists, said. The panelists were split into breakout rooms with first years and an APAHW member moderating the discussion, which he said gave the event an intimate feel.
“I know when I was a [first year], it was always great getting advice from upperclassmen, and I’m sure that’s much harder now in a virtual environment,” Gupta said. “It was really awesome to talk about our cultural backgrounds and how that shaped our process of finding our niches at Penn.”
The panelists also created “anti-business cards” for the attendees, which contained the panelist’s contact information, campus involvement, most memorable experience at Penn, and advice to first-year students, APAHW Tri-chair and College Senior Helen Zhang said.
In addition to hosting TLDR Penn, the heritage week featured a Zoom concert and question-and-answer session with hip hop artist Anik Khan on Nov. 11. The event garnered around 65 attendees, Zhang said.
“[Khan] talked a lot about representation of Desi diasporas and how that can be difficult to pursue because we're all very different and not very connected, unlike a lot of other minority groups in the United States,” Wharton sophomore Megha Raman said. “This was the first time [APAHW] had some sort of South Asian representation since I’ve been on campus, so that’s why I really wanted to go even if it was over Zoom.”
Tian noted that although the event was well-received by attendees, turnout was lower than in previous years, adding that the APAHW's traditionally in-person speaker event typically attracts around 100 attendees.
Zhang said the reasons for lower turnout this year were Zoom fatigue and the inability to cater free food for virtual events, which leads many students to feel as if they do not have an incentive to attend the event. She also noted that marketing the week-long event was more difficult this year than in the past, when students would generally find out about APAHW events through word-of-mouth.
“It’s kind of like self-selection — if people are looking for community, they’ll still come out to events and seek it,” Zhang said. “But people also rightfully need that break from their screens and we totally understand that.”
In lieu of Extravaganza, a performing arts showcase that typically kicked-off the week in previous years, APAHW hosted ExtravaGAMEsa on Nov. 12. Event attendees met on GatherTown, an interactive video chat platform, to play online games such as Among Us, Skribbl.io, and poker.
Other events held during APAHW were yoga and cooking workshops on Nov. 10 and 14, respectively. APAWH also hosted ASAM Mini Monologues, an adaptation of their traditional ASAM Dinner event during which attendees learned about Asian identity and history from professors in the ASAM program.
“We try to be mindful of the current political and social moment we’re living in and cognizant of the communities we’re serving,” APAHW Tri-chair and College senior Shaina Zafar said. “So much work and effort has gone into programming for us to be as thoughtful as possible.”
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