An invitation from the White House sent to the Office of Multicultural Affairs invited five Wake Forest students to join nearly 200 delegates from colleges, universities and high schools across the country for the first Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Youth Leadership Briefing.
The event was held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 12.
The White House website live streamed the conversations with college and high school AAPI students about issues such as access to higher education, community service and civil rights.
Xinxin (Stephanie) Zhang, a junior chemistry major from Lumberton, N.C., and Xizi Liao, a junior business and enterprise management major from Shanghai, China, two of the students who attended the briefing, share their experiences of the event in their own words.
“Where my brothers at?” bellowed Eddie Lee, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement at a group of young leaders from campuses all over the U.S. at the briefing. I was in the auditorium with the rest of the Wake Forest delegation.
I was amazed by the depth of knowledge that the students had about issues such as the crippling increase of tuition, declining quality of education, and ostracism of AAPI individuals at school. Although the current state of the economy, as well as certain limits in government control, make a perfect solution impossible at the moment, the White House officials were able to give detailed responses of measures currently in place.
Officials also proposed steps that students could take to ensure their concerns are heard, such as writing directly to the secretary of the Department of Education (where every single piece of mail has to be tagged, read, and replied to).
I was pleasantly surprised to hear the individual backgrounds of some of the speakers. AAPI youths, especially those who grew up in the states, often face parental and societal pressures to pursue stereotypical careers in the fields of engineering, medicine or law. Many of the officials had, indeed, tried to tread these paths before realizing their true calling and going on to have immensely successful careers in government, which goes to show the importance of having the bravery to pursue what means the most to you.
Despite being the fastest growing minority in the U.S., the AAPI community is rarely directly addressed by the government. In fact, the broad grouping of East Asian and Pacific Islander individuals together as “Asian” has produced a set of data that fails to truly reflect any of its subgroups.
This briefing was an excellent beginning on the part of the White House to address the challenges faced by AAPI communities. It is my hope that with the collaboration between youth leaders and activists and the government, the AAPI community of the U.S. will continue to reach for its true potential.
Being the only-child of the family, I hope to grow into the global citizen my parents expect me to be. Going to a college that is almost 8000 miles away from home was not an easy decision. However, I am glad that I persuaded my parents, because coming to Wake Forest University has opened so many doors for me.
I consider myself very lucky to be able to pursue my higher education in the U.S. I am able to broaden my horizons every day by learning from my professors and fellow students. I continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone, so I can benefit from the intellectually stimulating academic and social environment. As a junior, however, I started to wonder what the future holds for me as an international student in the U.S.? During the panel on AAPI issues in higher education, I challenged myself to stand in front of the microphone to pose my question.
“My name is Xizi Liao. I am a student at Wake Forest University,” I introduced myself, “I understand that federal government does not have direct funding for international students, but realizing international students serve an integral role in communicating across borders, what kind of suggestions would the federal government give to my fellow international students after they complete college?” With the lack of social support, international students struggle with gaining the same kind of work experience as their peers.
I learned about networking, following my passions, campus activism and the 10-Cs (Compelling Argument, Confidence, Community, Critical data, Consistent, Creative, Continuation, Compassion, Courage and Charm) — crucial factors for strategic leadership.
I ask all student leaders to take action in their organizations. The White House AAPI Youth Leadership Briefing is just the beginning of the conversation. Be the change you want to see, and be the voice you want to hear.