“In support of the Stop Asian Hate movement, my friends and I founded WKU’s first-ever Asian American Student Association (AASA). We created the AASA to represent the interests of Asian students at WKU,” said Grace Meiser, a WKU senior from Wilder, Ky.
Asian American Student Associations exist on college campuses across the United States, and in the fall of 2021, Noah Lyles and a group of his close friends started the student organization at Western Kentucky University. In addition to Lyles and Meiser, other WKU student founders included Emily Finchem, Langley Williams, Zihuan Sanderson, and Kohen Chang, and they had a several commonalities that brought them together.
“Most of the founding members of AASA are Asian American adoptees. We were brought together by the Chinese Flagship Program,” Meiser expressed. “We each had our own stories of struggling with our Asian American identities and found comfort in sharing our stories and experiences with one another.”
Meiser uses the term Asian American adoptees to reference students who were born in Asian countries and came to the United States through an adoption process.
As students in the Chinese Flagship Program, they focus on reaching a superior or professional level of Chinese proficiency by taking Flagship courses every semester in addition to their major or minor coursework. They participate in intensive Chinese language opportunities in the U.S. and China during the Winter or Summer terms. WKU students in the Chinese Flagship Program are also part of the Mahurin Honors College.
“I chose to double major in Chinese and Sociology with a minor in Non-Profit Administration because I want to work for an organization that rescues and rehabilitates child sex trafficking survivors in Asian countries,” Meiser said. To do this work, she finds it important to have strong communication skills in Chinese as well as to develop from experiences in other areas she is involved in at WKU.
Meiser serves as a founding member and intern with the WKU Alumni Association Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and alumni ambassador for the Mahurin Honors College. She also spent the spring semester interning at Phoenix Rising whose mission is focused on empowering youth impacted by human trafficking and exploitation.
“We (Asian American Student Association) serve as a safe space for students to connect and build their sense of community, a center for education on Asia-related issues at WKU and Bowling Green, and a platform for Asian students to have a voice on campus,” Meiser said.
The AASA meets these goals through its planning and execution of events that Meiser stays heavily involved in as co-vice-president.
This year, the group hosted Dumpling Night, Mid-Autumn Festival, Speed Friending, Asian American Trivia Night, Karaoke Night, Lunar New Year Tabling, and Boba Tea Party.
“We have been able to build meaningful relationships and share with one another our unique cultures and backgrounds,” Meiser explained.
In addition to the events that AASA organized to share their culture and connect with more students, Meiser played a key role in the first-ever Asian Faculty Panel. The discussion focused on heritage, traditions, food, and common stereotypes.
Meiser said, “The conversation was filled with meaningful insights and opened the conversation regarding identity and the struggles Asians have in defining it and overcoming stereotypes. Growing up in a predominantly white community, AASA provided me an opportunity to explore my heritage and gain a sense of belonging on campus."
In the future, the Asian American Student Association wants to continue its programs and incorporate other Asian cultural events outside of those related to Chinese culture.
“We also want to expand our reach to local Asian-owned businesses and provide them with opportunities to promote themselves on our social media channels and our events on campus. Lastly, we plan to continue to engage Asian faculty and staff on campus and continue to grow the Asian American community at WKU.”
More than 30 students from six Asian ethnicities make up the Asian American Student Association at WKU. The growing number of Asian faculty involved with the group’s events has exceeded 20, and they hope the growth will continue through future events.
Students interested in joining AASA can attend their bi-weekly meetings on Thursday evenings at 5:00 at HCIC during the academic year. Follow AASA on Instagram to get updates on their meetings and events using @wkuaasa.