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Student group hosts two-day conference

This past weekend, Carnegie Mellon played host to the annual Asian Student Leadership Conference (ASLC). The ASLC hosted a range of events aimed at promoting unity and involvement among Carnegie Mellon students. The event is a two-day affair, which, according to cmuaslc.org, “incorporates intellectual, social and political discussions about the role of the Asian and Asian-American experience in the United States.”

The conference began three years ago and has grown since its inception. Initially, the Asian Students Association hosted the event. Now, ASLC has a committee unto itself, and the conference has grown to incorporate more people and more of the Asian student organizations on campus. Members of the Asian Student Leadership Conference committee are carefully selected with the intention of creating a leadership group with a range of views and backgrounds.

Dawn Wang, a senior studying business administration and the student advisor for the ASLC committee, said that the event “brings unity to Asian organizations on campus, where there is some rivalry. We [Asian organizations] are not that united. Yet, the conference shows that there is a lot of commonality with which to create community.”
That community is clearly growing. By last Thursday, at least 200 people had signed up for the conference, compared to the total of 150 last year. The event spanned last Friday and Saturday where initially it was simply a single-day event that included only one keynote address and two breakout sessions.

This year the ASLC featured a range of events, including several keynote speakers, many smaller breakout sessions, and two live performances. One fundamental goal of the conference was to bring an intellectual focal point to November. By bringing in keynote speakers, the ASLC hoped to engage the campus in this exploration.

This year, the program included a keynote address by Suon Cheng, global strategic real estate analysis manager for Google; a keynote address by Wong Fu Productions; and a comedy routine by Ali Wong.

According to Shernell Smith, the staff advisor for ASLC and coordinator for multicultural and diversity initiatives at Carnegie Mellon, the variety of breakout sessions, such as “Strategies 4 Life” by Timothy Liu and “Silk Screen Festival” by Harish Saluja, allowed the conference to “address lots of aspects of Asian experiences, bridging the walls around one another.”

The emphasis on communication about real issues was fundamental to the events.

“I didn’t expect [Ali Wong] to be so open about what she was saying, talking about controversial topics such as sex and race. During the Q & A she inspired us to take risks. She could be a role model, because there are not that many Asian comedians who address real issues,” said Sara Lee, a first-year in computer science. “The focus on stuff that actually matters is what made this different,” Lee said of the entire event.

Despite its title, the Asian Student Leadership Conference isn’t just for members of the Asian community. Members of the ASLC committee emphasized that the conference, while dealing with Asian issues, is primarily about leadership. According to Wang, the broader community’s participation is integral. “Asian student organizations, and others, are seen as a side part of student life.... You don’t see their influence every day. This comes from fear, stereotyping, and lack of community among different Asian groups. The conference is important because of those connections,” Wang said.

Among other things, the events of Friday and Saturday clearly drew in a broader swath of students than in previous years. While the conference included many non-Asian and non-undergraduate students, more remarkably, it also included non-Carnegie Mellon students. The inclusion of students from other Pittsburgh schools indicates the direction of the Asian Student Leadership Conference.

This year, the committee made efforts to include students at other local schools such as Chatham University and Duquesne University.

The hope of the Asian Student Leadership Conference committee, as well as many of the affiliates, is for the conference to grow outside of Carnegie Mellon to become a Pittsburgh event. Other cities already have similar events, where they are able to bring schools together to address the mix of Asian issues that are prevalent today.

“Pittsburgh is on the cusp of being a place where people could imagine something along those lines,” said Smith.
According to a promotional poster, “The vision is for students to explore issues of race, identity, the modern implications, and inspire students to craft and pursue their dreams.” The success of the event is a strong step in the right direction.