Program supports Asian American education, leadership on campus

Lanterns float on Lake Osceola during the Asian American Students Association's 2021 Lantern Festival. Photo courtesy Zach Ng

By Jenny Hudak

Lanterns float on Lake Osceola during the Asian American Students Association's 2021 Lantern Festival. Photo courtesy Zach Ng

Program supports Asian American education, leadership on campus

By Jenny Hudak
The Asian Leadership Academy aims to educate the University of Miami community about Asian American history, while cultivating leadership skills and opportunities for students.

In March 2020, Zach Ng sat at a deli in Key West. As he watched the national news detail a sharp rise in incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes across the country during the coronavirus pandemic, he overheard local fishermen seated just a few tables away exchanging anti-Asian remarks. Quietly, he pulled his jacket hood over his head, paid his bill, and promptly left the deli.

“Seeing the stories of anti-Asian violence online, versus seeing the hate right in front of me made it very real for me,” he recalled. “It gave me a different purpose coming back to school after the pandemic.”

Ng, a Chinese American student and senior studying real estate finance, returned to the University of Miami for his sophomore year a few months later. Motivated by his experience to make a change in the community, he turned to his peers for support through the Asian American Students Association (AASA). 

“AASA was always primarily a social and cultural celebration organization. In 2020, that changed. We had to pivot into more of an activist and educational role if we wanted to truly serve the Asian American community at UM during that time,” he said.

The student organization spent the following year hosting events that honored and shared Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) culture on campus through difficult dialogues within the community surrounding the increased discrimination that was being faced at the time. Despite the group’s efforts, and as program director of AASA, Ng still felt there was more to be done.  

During an AASA meeting, the students hosted a workshop exploring the complexities of Asian American identities and how it impacted their roles in the community. The group identified ways to provide more educational resources and to instruct others about the history of the AAPI community.

Through the Asian Leadership Academy, a new AASA program spearheaded by Ng, students look to educate the community and accelerate the growth of fellow student leaders interested in exploring Asian American issues and history.  

During seven one-hour sessions, the academy participants will explore the topics of identity, oppression, allyship, Asian American history and issues, storytelling, media representation, and leadership. The program is designed to facilitate group learning through dialogue, reflection, and community building.

“Our goal is really to inspire more Asian Americans to take on leadership roles,” said Justin Yang, a sophomore studying neuroscience and microbiology. Yang serves as AASA’s internal vice president.

“We think the better everyone understands the history of Asian American issues, the more they can use that for good. We also hope they use these lessons to inspire themselves to be advocates for Asian American issues in their communities,” Yang said.

The students received support from the Division of Student Affairs. Patricia A. Whitely, senior vice president for student affairs, and Renee Dickens Callan, assistant vice president of student life, helped bring the program to life.

“We are excited to work with our student leaders to provide a forum for in-depth discussions around leadership development for aspiring Asian American student leaders at the University,” Whitely said. “We are happy to support the Asian Leadership Academy and look forward to seeing how this initiative evolves.”

The Asian Leadership Academy’s first session will be at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4, and will continue every Tuesday evening until Nov. 15. The program is open to students at the University who identify within the Asian American diaspora, and to allies in the community who are interested in learning about Asian American history. 

“We welcome everyone,” Yang said. “The term Asian American is very diverse—we welcome every student who falls under that identity, but also welcome students who are interested in learning about Asian issues and how to be allies to the community.”

“Something I like to look at is how do I bring the best out of what we have,” Ng pointed out. “I’m trying to bring the best out of not just the Asian American community, but the whole campus community. The way I feel like I can do that is by creating a space for people to explore their identities while developing themselves as stronger diverse leaders for their careers as students and beyond.”

Register for the Asian Leadership Academy online. Visit Engage for more information on the Asian American Students Association.