Texas A&M University Asian Presidents’ Council working to increase civic participation on campus.
The ability to be present is empowering Jessica Hsu ’19 to increase awareness of the Asian community on the Texas A&M University campus and to her community.
In September, this senior Nutritional Sciences major and vice president of the Asian Presidents’ Council (APC), attended the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) summit conference in Washington, D.C., to learn more about how to increase civic engagement of the Asian community on campus.
APC is a 12-member council working toward the goal of bringing cultural awareness and support to Asian organizations on campus.
Established in the early 2000s, APC was formed along with other Texas A&M cultural councils to unify and serve as a voice for student communities. Its student leaders meet weekly to help ensure that the needs of Asian student organizations are being met.
From left to right: Cindy Lam, Rayburn Lee, Kishan Patel, Jackie Mak, Jessica Hsu, Hunter Irion, Eric Shyu, Arshad Zaman, Kevin Ly and Elaine Chen
As a council, they strive to unite and strengthen these organizations. One of its goals is to increase communication and support among these organizations, and to provide leadership and organizational develop opportunities. In hopes of promoting awareness of the Asian community at Texas A&M, the organization’s president and vice president traveled to the APIAVote conference.
“The Asian population is one of the largest and fastest-growing demographics on campus, but it has historically been inactive in terms of civic engagement and political activism,” said senior APC President Jackie Mak ’18. “That’s why APIAVote’s goal is to promote awareness of the entire Asian community in the United States.”
APIAVote is a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with partners to mobilize Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in electoral and civic participation (www.apiavote.org). It hosts ambassador programs on 40 different campuses, including universities such as Harvard and Yale. The program runs from August 2017 to December 2018 with hopes of building power for APIA community participate in civic and political processes. In addition, the organization hosts a mandatory three-day training in Washington, D.C., during the summer.
“The coolest thing about the program is that there are 40 different campuses including us,” Mak said. “There are different representatives from various Asian student populations with diverse backgrounds. They are all from different schools, but we were there for a single core reason. It was really enlightening and pushed us to do more.”
As a participant in the ambassador program, the council is in charge of coordinating volunteer and team recruitment, voter registration drives, get-out-the-the vote programs, educating the community on APIA topics, and building sustainable programming at the university. The application process to become an ambassador includes essay questions and an interview with an APIAVote staff member. APIAVote offers a $1,000 stipend to help students fund these programs.
“In APC, we host many events each year, but the conference is a new opportunity that we really wanted to experience,” Hsu said. “Being an ambassador is exciting, but also scary at the same time. It’s a lot of work and commitment, but we believe the outcomes and results that APC can achieve are definitely worth our time and effort.”
Fast-Growing Asian Community in Aggieland
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the three largest Asian American ethnic groups are Chinese, Filipino, and Indian. Other groups that make up the population include: Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong.
According to Texas A&M student demographic records, only about 6 percent of the total student population is Asian, however, from fall 2012 to fall 2016, that group increased 78.6 percent, from 2,404 to 4,293 students.
These records also show a 59 percent increase in the number of Asian undergraduate students between fall 2012 and fall 2016. (from 2,001 to 3,187.) Asian students pursuing doctoral, master’s, post-doctoral, and professional degrees totaled 403 in fall 2012 compared to 1,106 in fall 2016, a 174 percent increase.
Texas A&M’s APC is riding the wave of this sharp increase in Asian Aggies as it promotes awareness through events such as Asian Heritage Month in April. Diana Lee, APC program advisor in the Department of Multicultural Services, is working closely to guide the group on its endeavors.
“Jackie and Jessica are really moving the community and challenging them to think of things that we normally don’t think about, Lee said. “With the Asian community, we talk about civic engagement and the lack of participation, and I think APC is challenging this idea, and I know it’s not easy as students to challenge each other. I am really proud of them for that. This is an amazing opportunity for them to learn about themselves and discover their capabilities.”
Valuable Life and Leadership Lessons
Hsu describes her experience at the summit conference as positive and moving. She hopes to take the knowledge learned at the workshops and apply them to better the Asian organizations. Her goal is to help all Aggies understand the Asian community more clearly.
“This conference is the beginning of something really interesting,” Hsu said. “Connecting with leaders and other members has really opened my eyes and has shown me how people really care about the community. Sparking that conversation with other APC members across the nation made me realize that we share similar values even though we are in different worlds.”
Mak says his four years spent as a student leader in APC has immensely improved his leadership skills and abilities, all of which will help him conquer future tasks not only in his career, but in life.
“The leadership skills I have gained through these experiences have been invaluable,” Mak said. “I have grown as an individual and as a professional with the help of the advisors in the Department of Multicultural Services and through projects that I have undertaken. The work that APC does is extremely challenging, but reaching the goals we have set is always rewarding.”
The group will continue its work throughout the fall semester.
“Texas A&M is making significant progress in improving campus climate with diversity and inclusion initiatives, but the Asian community can run into the problem of not being acknowledged by both the administration and student body,” Mak said. “With our awareness initiatives and programming, we want to enhance the lives of Asian students on campus by exploring more opportunities. As an often-underrepresented minority group, Asian students sometimes struggle to get their feet in the door. The work we are doing will help individuals within the Asian community to find their home at Texas A&M.”
By Maggie Rians ’18