Group of diverse students, with multiple Asian people, sitting in circle at cafe

How Non-AAPI Students Can Respectfully Join in Cultural Events

In our modern and politically correct society, many students are unsure of how to participate in cultural celebrations. Here are some tips to get involved!

Some of the more prominent social events held on college campuses are cultural festivals or awareness weeks. My school often puts on AAPI culture month, dedicated to the history of Asian American and Pacific Islander culture, offering educational talks, fun food events, and traditional festivals. As an Asian American student, many of the events caught my eye, and I was excited to partake in something that represented the culture I grew up in. Of course, these events are not meant just for AAPI students—they’re for anyone in the campus community, and they’re often an invaluable opportunity to experience a new culture up close and personal. However, due to today’s rapidly changing society that emphasizes political correctness, many students are unsure of how to get involved in cultural activities that aren’t of their own background. Here are some tips for how non-AAPI students can get involved in cultural celebrations and events! And really, these tips can be used in any cross-cultural situation.

Attempt to dismantle your stereotypes

Before attending cultural events, dispel any stereotypes or expectations you may have about the particular culture you’re engaging in. Instead, come with an open mind that’s willing to challenge preconceived ideas you may have grown up with. Although people often say stereotypes hold some truth to them, a good professor of mine once said it’s not the stereotypes themselves that are necessarily bad but the fact that stereotypes often keep us from truly empathizing with the other group. Stereotypes are often used as a means to “other” a certain group of people, but you can’t fully embrace a culture without acknowledging the complexities and widespread backgrounds of its people.

Be primarily a listener during discussions

Although it may be tempting to give your opinions and relate your experiences to the ones being presented, be mindful of how much space you’re taking up in a cultural discussion. After all, talks and discussions planned during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (or any other cultural commemoration) are directed at the AAPI experience, so it’s only fair to let those narratives take up most of the dialogue. That doesn’t mean your voice isn’t wanted or shouldn’t be heard, but it should not come first or be the dominant one either.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Experience Culture Without Going Abroad

Educate yourself ahead of time and ask questions

There’s nothing wrong with being curious and asking thoughtful questions, but bombarding someone with questions about their heritage can be overwhelming. In addition, it puts the responsibility of educating someone about the entirety of a culture on a select few. Think of it this way: If you were the only English major in your friend group of Physics majors and they all kept asking you questions about your English readings and expected you to teach them everything you knew, you’d likely feel irritated and would want them to at least do some common knowledge research before asking questions. The same goes for people of an often underrepresented culture or background.

Know the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation

Most people have heard the term by now, but it’s still important to remind ourselves of the definition of cultural appropriation, which is “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from another culture without permission.” It’s especially harmful when aspects are taken from historically marginalized or oppressed groups. An example of appropriation is wearing a poorly made version of a culturally traditional garment and acting in a stereotyped caricature way often portrayed by the media. Many people have difficulty deciphering if adopting influences from another culture truly represent their appreciation. The main thing that sets appreciation and appropriation apart is permission. If you’re welcomed to partake in an AAPI event as a non-AAPI student, then it’s not appropriation. In those cases, enjoy and appreciate the opportunity you to experience another culture alongside its people.

Related: 4 Ways You Bring Culture and Diversity to Your College

Participating in events for cultures that aren’t your own is an important part of becoming a well-rounded, more globally and culturally conscious person. While it may seem like precarious footing trying to avoid offending anyone, coming with good intentions and an open mind is all that’s needed. Listen to peers from that culture, be kind and thoughtful in your interactions, and educate yourself on your own time. But most importantly, enjoy yourself and uplift your fellow AAPI students during Heritage Month and beyond.

College campuses offer so many ways to increase your cultural competencies! Check out our blog Fostering Diversity: College Clubs That Welcome Students of All Cultures for ideas to get involved on your campus.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Naomi Hong

Naomi Hong graduated from Occidental College in 2018 with a degree in International Relations and Japanese and a minor in Economics. She currently works as a concierge/front desk agent at a luxury hotel in Southern California. She's passionate about hospitality and travel and hope to continue my career within the hotel industry. She also enjoys writing articles about career advice, studying abroad, and learning new languages. 


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Bri'Yana Brown-Dunn

Bri'Yana Brown-Dunn

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me gain interest in many colleges/universities and many scholarships. I would say the most helpful thing CollegeXpress has done for me is sending me emails that tell me certain types of colleges are interested in me as well as emails about scholarships that I can look at and possibly apply for.



High School Class of 2021

For a long time, I've been searching everywhere to find the perfect website I can get scholarships and information from. Needless to say, I could never find the right one. That was, until I found CollegeXpress. Through my journey of finding the right scholarships for me, I was able to find articles about different things. They've all been helpful, especially in times like this! I was even able to connect with some of my favorite colleges! I love CollegeXpress. Thank you!

Victoria Fuss

Victoria Fuss

March Madness Scholarship Winner, Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me dramatically. Moving on to the next level has been a dream of my mine since I was just a young kid, and the support and help CollegeXpress has given me will help me further my education. I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone at CollegeXpress!

Hannah Nelsen

Hannah Nelsen

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me look at colleges that fit my interests by taking my profile and matching it to colleges that have the programs I'm looking for. It has the ability to connect me to colleges so I can be contacted by them and look at them more in-depth to find what's right for me. Additionally, the scholarship database is super beneficial for getting scholarships for college. Not only does it help lift the financial burden of college but it shows all the opportunities available. Overall, CollegeXpress has been very helpful to me.

Cameron Lee

Cameron Lee

High School Class of 2022

I used CollegeXpress to search for colleges. It helped me narrow down the schools on the West Coast and which schools had Construction Engineering programs. I made my decision to go to OSU and I am so excited about it.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Santa Clara University

Santa Clara, CA

New York University

New York, NY

Villanova University

Villanova, PA