The Pan-Asian American Community House is hosting a student-led discussion series called “AsianTalks” — group therapy sessions for students at Penn.
PAACH has hosted five AsianTalks discussion events in the form of group therapy sessions with 20 to 30 graduate and undergraduate students. Topics for the sessions range from love and friendship in college to coping with academic pressures.
As soon as in-person campus life returned in August 2021, College junior and program founder Ryan Afreen said that she took initiative to create her wellness space through PAACH. Afreen worked with PAACH director Peter Van Do during the fall semester to organize and promote AsianTalks through ARCH’s weekly newsletters and social media.
Afreen said that she hopes that AsianTalks can offer students from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to discover commonalities that they might not have found elsewhere in a supportive, judgment-free environment.
“We are not holding back,” Afreen said. “We are being as vulnerable as we can, and we feel like we have a general, overall supportive community.”
A PAACH virtual retreat last year inspired Afreen to create AsianTalks. She observed students opening up to each other about their shared experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and felt that the community would benefit from a consistent wellness program.
Afreen added that the discussion series was also inspired by PAACH’s “#AsianTalks” event in October 2021, when people walking by the ARCH building wrote reasons that they were "#ProudtobeAsian" on whiteboards outside the building. Students were able to express their pride in the culture, values, traditions, and communities that come with claiming an Asian identity.
Afreen said that the AsianTalks topics are planned around events and issues that the organizers feel are relevant to the Asian American community at Penn. Because of this, the events are organized somewhat spontaneously, she said, rather than following a set schedule for the semester.
“We are actively deconstructing ‘Penn Face’ here,” Afreen said, adding that she prides herself on the fact that the series offers a reprieve from the competitive environment that Penn students often find themselves in.
Afreen begins each meeting by asking attendees: if there was one thing you could change about Penn, what would it be? To avoid the silence that often follows such open-ended questions, she said that she first shares her own thoughts and experiences, then offers space for participants to express their own thoughts.
Ishani Mehta, College junior and PAACH member, attended the March 2 AsianTalks discussion, which was focused on academic pressures placed on Asian American students by their families, peers, and community members. She said she was impressed with Afreen’s ability to facilitate discussion without claiming the entire space for herself.
“I think a lot of people let things off their chest that they didn’t even know they were holding in,” Mehta said.
The AsianTalks program runs independent of Penn’s counseling services, but Afreen said that she is planning to meet with therapists from Counseling and Psychological Services in the near future to discuss officializing AsianTalks under CAPS.