Asian-American Students Launch 'Open Hands, Open Minds' to Celebrate Identity

by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang /  / Updated 
Courtesy of Vanderbilt AASA

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month has arrived six months early at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, this year.

Vanderbilt's Asian American Students Association (AASA) wanted to get a jump on addressing the difficulties and invisibility of being Asian American in the South, and they wanted to do so in a way that engaged everyone in thinking about how their different identities intersect.

“Though there is an emphasis on Asian Pacific American identity and experiences, we want everyone to feel that they too, could celebrate their own identity during this month, since we each hold our own junction of our identity,” student leaders Amy Dam, Jordan Jenson, and Claire Song told NBC News. “We hope to help people understand and celebrate each others'—as well as their own—crossroads.”

Students are making their experiences in the South more visible while also challenging limiting stereotypes with a Buzzfeed-inspired “I am...but I’m not” video about identity, an engaging interactive photography campaign featuring messages about identity and intersectionality written on open hands, a TED Talks-style event with student leaders talking about the impact of diversity on their lives, panel discussions, multicultural line dancing, and a buffet featuring over 30 different dishes from 10 Asian countries.

Vanderbilt Institutional Research Group reports that in 2015, Asian/Pacific Islander Americans account for 11.6 percent; African Americans, 8.4 percent; Hispanic Americans, 8.4 percent; multiracial students, 4.7 percent; and Native Americans, 0.4 percent—totaling 33.5 percent of undergraduate students at Vanderbilt University. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the 2014 Asian alone population in Tennessee was 4.8 percent and the Pacific Islander population was .02 percent.