Each week, OVPDEMA highlights a graduating student involved with one of the many culture centers on campus, exploring their work and experience at IU. Kevin Phan is a rising senior majoring in East Asian Languages and Cultures, focusing in Japanese, and minoring in Creative Technologies and Asian American Studies as well as a student assistant at the Asian Culture Center. His role involves promoting the ACC and acting as both a social media manager and photographer. Recently, he discussed his time in college and what he’s learned working at the ACC.
What do you enjoy participating in the most at the Asian Culture Center?
There’s a specific program that happens every spring semester. It’s called DestinAsian, and that’s one of my favorite programs. This program involves us going to Chicago and then we go to a bunch of cultural organizations that involve Asian and Asian American representation. It’s really interesting because we get to experience so many different AsAM organizations.
How do you feel the ACC has helped you grow in college?
I’ve been volunteering or working here ever since freshman year and it’s been a really good experience having a safe community. It’s just nice because I feel like I’m not able to meet up with a lot of other Asian Americans on campus, and so I feel that the cultural center really provides me a space where I can make a lot of new friends.
What does the ACC mean to you?
The ACC means providing a safe space and inclusive community but also a community that promotes Asian American awareness and also Asian issues for all students all across IU.
Any exciting developments recently in your studies?
My minor in Asian American studies involved an independent research study. For this research study, I’m looking at LGBTQ+ and Asian American men and the intersectionality between those two. I’m trying to create a creative aspect to it and I want to record or document Asian American men in the Midwest who identify as queer. I’m also just doing a bunch of research on my own and creating a paper at the end of it.
What has been some of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences during your time in college?
One of the most challenging times was trying to balance ACC work with my club work. I think it was last semester when the Vietnamese Student Association here held a conference where we invited all of the Vietnamese student associations from the Midwest to come down to IU and promote leadership and also awareness of Vietnamese American issues. It was a pretty tough balance taking pictures for the center but also taking pictures of this other event.
Would you pursue photography after graduation, as well?
Yeah! I’m just really focused on getting more representation of AAPI people, and so I definitely want to continue pursuing photography.
Through that specific lens?
Who are your most influential artists and photographers?
I researched a couple for my project last semester and there’s this one really influential author named Tan Hoang Nguyen. His focus was on LGBTQ masculinity in Asian America, and he wrote this book called A View From The Bottom.
There’s actually an author on campus, her name is Cindy Wu. She’s a professor who also has that similar focus. She’s also pretty influential within this research, and then actually here at the ACC we just had a talk with Anthony Ocampo, who discussed Filipino Americans and the queer identity. Those are some people I look up to within academia.
In what ways do you think about your identity through your artistic practice?
I feel like it definitely provides me with some clarity, in that I get to interact with different kinds of people. I get to better understand their backgrounds and see how their experience is different or similar to mine. But it also makes me question and think about my own identity. Like where do I place myself within the AsAm or Vietnamese community?
What has been some of your biggest accomplishments or goals you’ve achieved? Personal, professional or otherwise?
An achievement of mine would be that conference [DestinAsian]. I was holding the position of media director, so a lot of it fell on what my goals are for the AsAm community. You know I want better media representation, but I also want to keep track of our culture and be a historian/documentarian.
Another one of my biggest achievements here is getting work in a gallery. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to go to Japan and study there and I also got some work into a gallery so I was really happy about that.
What are your plans after graduation?
Currently, I’m trying to apply to JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, so applying to that and applying to EPIK which is like the Korean parallel to JET. I’m also applying to a few Asian American non-profit organizations. There’s APIA Vote, GAPA (Gay Asian Pacific Alliance) and also, NAPAWF (National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum). I’m just applying to as many things as I can!
In the future, I’d like to do creative work like photography, graphic design, create newsletters and whatever. After that, I want to apply to UCLA for grad school, with an Asian American studies in the master’s program, but that’s like way later.
What else would you like to promote?
The ACC is hosting Retracing Our Roots, which is where a bunch of students get to go to the woods and discuss their identity and how to empower themselves within Indiana and the Midwest. It’s a really good event, we get to stay in a really fancy cabin, transportation is provided. So is food, which is really important.
The ACC provides a bunch of other resources such as CAPS counseling. We have Asian and Asian American counselors to talk to Asian students across campus. We also have Daily Happenings so students can learn any language they’d like to learn. So far we’re teaching Mandarin and Korean, and we’re trying to offer Japanese in a bit. We have a lot of resources so people should come and visit!