Held on February 22, the Sixth annual Indiana Asian American Conference (IAAC) brought awareness and sparked discussion around political issues and topics within the Asian American experience on campus and the community. The conference included special guest and Keynote Speaker Ken Lieu—author of the short story collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories as well as the Star Wars novel The Legends of Luke Skywalker—educational workshops and a professional development panel. This year's IAAC was in collaboration with OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“This was my first time experiencing the conference,” Joan Lee, a freshman in classical studies, said. “As well as being my first ever professional conference, so it was a really unique experience for me.”
The conference offered two educational workshops. One on defining advocacy and the other on mapping Asian/Pacific American privilege and power. Designed to show the students in attendance how to problem solve and think through their own biases before acting, each workshop included a PowerPoint presentation and a student activity to represent their goals best.
For the defining advocacy workshop, students were split into groups and asked to think of a cause for which to advocate. Some were serious, such as more cameras in parking lots, while others were lighter-hearted, such as advocating for more time on the workshop activity or for the Studio Ghibli to put their films on Netflix. The purpose was to understand not only how to advocate for someone, but how to gather support for your cause from others.
The other workshop focused on mapping Asian/Pacific American privilege with an activity designed for attendees to confront their privilege. Each attendee was given a sticker sheet and asked to rate how comfortable they felt expressing a characteristic, such as sexuality, class, and ethnicity.
“What I found interesting about the privilege workshop was how difficult it was to not think in terms of White privilege,” Joan said. “Other people didn’t seem to have that much of a problem, but I found it weirdly difficult to separate my thinking from the standard White person perspective.”
Joan’s issue—defaulting to a White perspective—was echoed in Keynote Speaker Ken Liu’s speech. Liu recalled several instances where he was to write “the perfect immigrant” story for a primarily White American audience. And while that did give him some success, Liu found that writing outside of that perspective was much more rewarding to him both personally and financially. Liu went on to discuss representation and how he found it was better to tell his stories and let representation happen naturally, rather than trying to force it, which often lead to the same example over and over again.
The conference concluded with a panel discussing professional development, where a group of Asian American professionals shared their advice and experience with attendees.
“It was my first time attending anything related to professional development,” Joan said. “And I found that it was so helpful to know all these people were once where I am now. Hearing how they used their experience to get them to where they are today was super inspiring.”
"Conferences for the Asian/Pacific American community in the Midwest are especially important in helping individuals understand their A/PA identities and histories.” Meloddy Gao, a junior studying environmental management and the IAAC’s professional development panel moderator said. “The IAAC is the only annual conference for A/PAs in Indiana. The gravity of community is apparent across A/PA subgroup cultures, making it crucial for opportunities like the IAAC to bring together diverse individuals and expose them to A/PA advocacy. Engaging conference participants with national organizations like OCA not only gives them a better understanding of the issues that impact A/PAs, but also helps inform them of what they can do to address these issues in the future."