Student organization builds community, shares Asian American culture

The Asian American Student Association hosts cultural and show events on campus throughout the year to raise cultural awareness and strengthen Carolina’s Asian American Community. 

Students dancing on stage.
(Photo by Mary Ha)

When Gaomomee Yang was a first-year student at Carolina, she knew that she wanted to be active in the campus’ Asian American community. But with the pandemic moving most courses and events online, that goal wasn’t easy to achieve at the time.

Then she found the Asian American Student Association. Yang calls the group her steppingstone into the campus community. The student organization, the junior said, helped her get out of her shell and build a network of fellow Tar Heels while also sharing her culture with more students.

Consisting of more than 100 Tar Heels, the Asian American Student Association, which was founded by Eugene Lao ’91 in the late ’80s, hosts cultural and show events on campus throughout the year to raise cultural awareness and strengthen Carolina’s Asian American Community.

Now the co-cultural chair and soon-to-be president of the student organization, Yang discussed the group, how it’s working to share Asian culture with the entire Carolina campus and how the tight-knit community supports our Tar Heels.

What is the goal of the Asian American Student Association?

One of the biggest things is promoting Asian American culture and Asian American awareness in terms of issues that revolve around the community. On top of that, I think it’s important to remain engaged with one’s community, learn about one’s roots and just make sure that there’s a space for students on campus who identify as Asian American or Asian. We do that through our social events that help people bond with one another. We have a big-little program, which is what you make out of it. It can be a mentorship or a literal big-little sibling bond. It’s just a social aspect, mainly. It allows people to just meet new people and learn about people’s experiences.

I think that’s important because Carolina is a predominantly white institution, so having this space allows people to just connect with people similar to them and then also getting to learn about themselves more. [The group] helped me learn more about myself and connect with people. It’s really community-building.

How does the Asian American Student Association share Asian American culture with the campus community?

One of the ways that we go about that is through Journey into Asia. Journey into Asia is the largest cultural showcase on campus. Usually, it’s held in Memorial Hall. And in the past, we’ve had over 1,000 people come, and even the chancellor himself. So, it’s a pretty big event and a pretty big deal for AASA and also the Asian American community. For that showcase, we have dancing, singing, people do spoken word or martial art performances.

That’s one of the biggest ways we can promote Asian American awareness and culture, not just toward the Asian American community, but like the greater UNC community. I think why Journey into Asia is so important because it is an outlet for Asian American students to show their creativity and also to show an aspect of their culture and the arts that pertain to their culture.

Another way is just programming regular events. We promote Asian American culture or even just allow people to engage with one another. This past weekend we just held an Asian American formal with Duke University that was a really huge hit. We had over 500 people come between both universities.

Why is this group something that you want to dedicate your time to as a leader?

I think it is bigger than just a student organization. I think once you truly get involved, you kind of realize it’s community. I feel like it’s a family. I love meeting new people through AASA, and I love being able to gain that connection on top of that. And another thing is people are just really supportive of one another in the organization. Even though it is very big, you can meet new people and connect with them automatically. That’s just something that I appreciate.

What has been your favorite part about being part of the Asian American Student Association?

My favorite part has been getting to meet new people. I think that’s really important and something that I really appreciate. I feel like had it not been for AASA, I definitely would have been a little bit more isolated at UNC, but I found a community that supports me. It’s been very good for me to come out of my shell and be willing to be extroverted and meet new people. Like I said, it’s like that community aspect. I feel like I’m bigger than just one person. It feels like there’s always somebody I know or somebody I can say “Hi” to through AASA.

Learn more about the Asian America Student Association