On Jan. 14, GW’s two newest Asian student organizations will debut in grand fashion with a welcome back dance party, “Shangri-La.” The Chinese American Student Association (CASA) and the Korean American Student Alliance (KASA) will host this event in conjunction with the Philippine Cultural Society (PCS) and the Asian Student Association. This will hopefully be the beginning of a new period of cooperation and coordination among Asian student organizations throughout the rest of the school year and hopefully for years to come.
GW’s Asian student organizations have gone through a number of changes – from a period when the Asian Student Association was the largest and most influential institution, to its current state in which many smaller separate groups have emerged. This trend is not at all limited to recent history. Over the years, PCS has strengthened and increased its activities and visibility culminating in the incredibly successful FIND conference held last year. The Korean Student Association has left its mark on GW through events such as the annual I-Night and Korean Friendship night.
These groups have received recognition and praise over the years for their outstanding efforts at raising awareness about their cultures, but they unfortunately also have garnered some criticism such as that such groups promote a clique mentality and segregation in GW’s student body. This general attitude has been strengthened by the recent trend of groups such as the Korean American Student Alliance and Chinese American Student Association partitioning along ethnic and racial lines. But this attitude is a little harsh and ignorant of the true nature of what is being accomplished.
It is not the goal or intention of such organizations to promote segregation, but rather to enhance the student experience here at GW. Unfortunately, a name that includes members of a particular background, or in this case, ethnic background, implies a certain level of inward-looking standoffishness or even elitism. However, by separating into groups that focus on their respective ethnic background, greater energy can be spent in the betterment of all of our respective communities.
Only in a group such as the KASA, where the focus is not only on expanding our own knowledge of our peninsular origin, but also opening it up to the general student body, can the spark be lit and kept alive. Only in a group such as the CASA can the idea of a massive Chinese New Year’s parade celebration be explored and implemented.
Unfortunately, in our inward-appearing consciousness, our organizations have turned off much of the GW student body. It is not simply for our respective groups that we do activities, but for all of GW. GW students are better off having these resources at their disposal. The only concern now is that this open invitation is accepted by the student body.
The attitude and belief that there is a trend toward more heterogeneous, smaller, inward-looking student groups is ludicrous. The heads of our initiative toward the institution of Korean studies are from two completely different backgrounds. One is an adopted Korean with a Jewish background and the other a native-born Korean. Of course, the response would be, “But they’re both Korean. I’m not, what do I care?” The point is that even in our own respective organizations, there is wide range of diversity. This diversity fuels our organizations, providing us with a fresh perspective on our own experience.
Everyone has the world to gain from experience with organizations such as my own, and I think they are a way to step closer toward understanding not only the immigrant experience, not only a cultural awakening, but toward understanding the human experience.
I now place an open invitation not only to all the Asians, not only to all the Asian Americans, but to all of GW to expand your own perspective and shake off old preconceived ideas and join us. Come to some of our organizations’ functions with an open mind and I assure you, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
-The writer is president of the Korean American Student Alliance.