Four USC students traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to attend the first Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Youth Leadership Briefing hosted by the Obama administration.
“[USC vice president for Student Affairs] Michael L. Jackson e-mailed me a few months back about this amazing opportunity for some of our student leaders,” said Sumun Pendakur, director of USC Asian Pacific American Student Services. “As soon as I read more about it, I instantly knew that I wanted to send Amy Huang, Maithreyi Shankar, Laura Wang and Katrina Karl to attend the event. They all come from great backgrounds, have tremendous leadership commitments to the USC community and are progressive women concerned about education, access and community engagement.”
As part of the one-day briefing, the students and 200 fellow delegates hailing from high schools and universities across the country took part in a panel discussion on current issues facing Asian Pacific American (APA) students on college campuses. The panel featured government officials, including Jon Carson, director of the Office of Public Engagement; Kiran Ahuja, executive director of the White House Initiative on AAPI; Eddie Lee, youth outreach director for the White House Initiative on AAPI; and Rajiv Shah, administrator for the United States Agency for International Development.
Karl, who attended the event on behalf of USC’s Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment, was impressed by how the panel illustrated opportujnities for APA students.
“It’s important for Asian Pacific Americans to build solidarity through events like this and see how the federal government can help us in more ways than we think,” said Karl, a junior communications major. “But even more than that, to see Asian Pacific Americans holding positions in government I didn’t even know existed was a really inspiring thing to witness.”
After the panel discussion, the delegates broke off into smaller groups to delve into higher education, tuition hikes and campus and civic engagement.
Wang, the programming coordinator for Critical Issues in Race, Class and Leadership Education, a USC student organization, participated in the higher education discussion.
“When you are at a private university, you sometimes feel like you are in a bubble when it comes to talking about higher education for minorities,” said Wang, a senior environmental studies major. “But we talked to several high school students and other college students who attend public universities, and it was fascinating to hear the issues facing them on a daily basis that we don’t necessarily endure at USC. Hearing about the other side was very beneficial in broadening my leadership experience. It gave me a better sense of the whole picture.”
Pendakur appreciated USC’s involvement and willingness to allow students to gain new perspectives on pressing issues.
“Allowing these students to participate in an event like this says a lot about USC,” she said. “About 25 percent of undergraduate students on campus identify themselves as Asian Pacific Americans. So to have these students show that they are just as political, just as vocal, just as in need of information as any other students, really illustrates that the political process is vibrant at USC.”