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AAPI Representation and Clubs in College Communities

AAPI students are an important part of college campuses, and so is the support they receive. Here's a look at campus diversity, AAPI organizations, and more!

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! Students from AAPI communities contribute a great deal to the overall quality and diversity on college campuses. They bring with them their culture, knowledge, and life perspectives to impact the lives of their peers and their colleges in general. While minority students don’t often make up the largest population of the student body at most schools, colleges and universities try to ensure these students feel welcomed and celebrated through events, organizations, and academic support. Let’s take a look at AAPI diversity in the US, college clubs that AAPI students can join, and the overall impact they have on higher education.

Asian American and Pacific Islander diversity in the US

According to the 2020 Census Report from the US Census Bureau, there are 19.9 million people in the US identifying as Asian and 689,966 people identifying as just Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, not including those identifying as mixed race. While these may seem like small numbers in the grand scheme of the nearly 330 million people in the country, both groups have seen significant population increases since 2010. With these numbers growing, it’s important for AAPI populations to feel as sought after in higher education as students of other races. That’s why the US Department of Education has a designated program, much like Hispanic-Serving Institutions, to help colleges and universities serve their AAPI and Native populations. The Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) program provides funding to any college or university with an undergraduate Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander population that makes up 10% of the student body.

With such a small percentage threshold to qualify for AANAPISI funding, many colleges and universities across the US are (or should be) equipped to support AAPI students, including the California State University system, University of Maryland, CUNY–Hunter College, and more. Currently, only 38 colleges in the US are receiving funding for their AANAPISI student populations, but hundreds more are eligible—meaning hundreds of other colleges and universities have the AAPI community you may be looking for in a higher education institution.

Related: 6 Great Colleges for Asian and Pacific Islander Students

Supporting AAPI students

It’s important for AAPI students to feel supported by not only their colleges and universities as institutions but also by their peers and friends on campus. Obviously, the most important way to support AAPI students as an individual is to stand with and defend your AAPI friends and peers when faced with racism and injustice. However, being supportive isn’t just adhering to the basics of being an ally. Non-AAPI students should seek to learn about causes that are important to AAPI communities, join inclusive clubs and organizations that celebrate different heritages and cultures, and listen to their peers and the stories they have to share.

Types of AAPI clubs on college campuses

Let’s look at some great clubs and organizations that build community on college campuses that are both exclusively for AAPI students and inclusive of students of all backgrounds. 

Student associations

While the phrase “Asian American and Pacific Islander” is great to encompass the larger community of people, there are so many Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities, races, and nationalities—which means there are many, many student associations that encompass each group. Most colleges will offer some form of combined AAPI student group—like the Asian Pacific American Student Coalition at Washington State University—while also offering specific groups such as:

  • Filipino Student Association
  • Khmer Student Association (Cambodian American students)
  • Pacific Islanders Club
  • Vietnamese Student Association
  • Chinese Student Association
  • Hong Kong Student Association
  • Indian American Student Association
  • Japan Student Association
  • Korean International Student Association
  • Malaysian Students Association

This is just a fraction of the potential variety of Asian and Pacific Islander communities represented on college campuses. And any that aren’t already established on your campus can always be created through some student initiative!

Cultural appreciation clubs

Cultural appreciation clubs are a great opportunity for AAPI students to share their cultures, heritages, and stories with college students of other backgrounds. These groups are typically all-inclusive communities of students bonding over their shared appreciation of a culture. They may include groups like these clubs at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor:

  • Korean Food Club: A club that explores Korean food options in the area and promotes knowledge of Korean food in general
  • Animania: The Japanese Animation: A social club to celebrate a shared love of anime
  • Revolution: A group to raise awareness about Chinese Yoyo/Diablo as a performance art and general AAPI culture through performances
  • Kopitonez: An Asian-interest a cappella group that performs in a variety of languages
  • SPIC MACAY: An Indian Culture group that promotes understanding and awareness through Indian classical arts

Your colleges of interest or the current college you attend may not offer these exact groups, but it’s more than likely you’ll find some variation of these cultural clubs and interests represented at your school.

Related: Scholarships for Asian and Pacific Islander Students

Activist and community service organizations

Joining activist and community service organizations in college is a key way for AAPI students to connect with others in their communities and support causes that improve the lives of Asian and Pacific Islander people across the country. You can also continue to participate in these types of groups long after graduation. Here are a couple examples of organizations to look out for (or to reach out to and start a chapter if they’re not already represented on your campus):

  • 18 Million Rising: 18MR is a digital-forward organization dedicated to helping Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders find a political voice in the US government and work to aid those on the margins of their communities.
  • Desis Rising Up and Moving: According to their website, “DRUM was founded in 2000 to build the power of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean low-wage immigrant workers, youth, and families in New York City to win economic and educational justice, and civil and immigrant rights.” There are tons of schools in NYC that may and could work with this great organization!

Bear in mind that if larger AAPI organizations don’t currently have a program to establish chapters on college campuses, students can still join them independently in their personal lives. Activist and community service organizations are always looking for young people who are eager and willing to help make a change for causes they care about.

APIDA Greek life

The National APIDA Panhellenic Association is the overarching council for 20 Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Desi American fraternities and sororities. Greek organizations are close-knit networks that help students find comfort, support, community, and fun among alike people through chosen brotherhood and sisterhood. Sororities and fraternities that may be active on your campus include:

  • Alpha Phi Gamma National Sorority
  • Beta Chi Theta National Fraternity
  • Delta Kappa Delta National Sorority
  • Delta Sigma Iota National Fraternity
  • Kappa Phi Gamma National Sorority
  • Sigma Beta Rho National Fraternity

Don’t let negative preconceptions and stereotypes deter you from joining Greek life. Fraternities and sororities can be great organizations of love and support that can help you find friendships with people who will be there for you throughout your college career and long into your postgrad life.

Professional groups

AAPI students can benefit greatly from joining professional groups at their colleges. These types of organizations help students network and build marketable skills for the working world. The process of starting a career can be a lot smoother with support from other AAPI professionals. Here are a couple examples of groups to look out for:  

  • National Association for Asian American Professionals (NAAAP): This association consists of 30 chapters in North America and seeks to “connect AAPI leaders across industries through networking and education events, trainings, community service programs, and celebrations of Asian American excellence.” It’s a great general organization to join for students pursuing any profession.
  • National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA): This organization seeks to “achieve optimal representation and influence of Asian American and Pacific Islander attorneys in every facet and level of the legal profession.” Students interested in law should look into the benefits of joining, which include internships, scholarships, and more.

Related: Spotlight on 4 AAPI Professionals in Higher Education

The Asian American and Pacific Islander population is increasing every year, and there are so many races and ethnicities represented under the umbrella of AAPI. It’s important to acknowledge this wide variety of cultures and people and find ways to support and celebrate them not just on college campuses but in society as a whole. While AAPI students should seek out organizations and resources that will help them find success and community, everyone should celebrate AAPI communities and individuals this month and beyond by learning, listening, and uplifting.

Interested in learning more? Check out our other blogs and articles about and for AAPI students by clicking the “AAPI Heritage Month” tag.

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