On Sept. 17, Kenyon Asian Identities (KAI) — a student affinity group founded in 2018 which seeks to amplify the voices of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students — hosted the second annual Kenyon Asian and Pacific Islander Faculty Panel. Twenty students and faculty members attended virtually.
Hemmi Song ’24, one of the student organizers of the AAPI event and a member of KAI, said that the format of the panel led to important dialogue between faculty members.
“What was unique, and what made it go well, was the discussion that was fostered between the professors,” said Song. “This year, the AAPI panel got to talk to each other and they built off of previous points, [reflecting] on the experiences that other professors have. It just felt like it was building a lot of solidarity and community.”
Those in attendance got to hear from and ask questions of nine professors from different departments who identify as AAPI. For Song, that experience in itself was empowering.
“There was one student in my breakout room who said that it was just cool to meet AAPI professors,” Song said. “It was her first time seeing someone who’s in her culture in a position where they are teaching others.” Carissa Kieger ’24, another student co-organizer, echoed the importance of academic role models, noting that during her high school experience, she had no AAPI teachers.
For Kieger, the purpose of the annual KAAPI panel is to cultivate an environment where AAPI voices can be heard.
“The space we wanted to create is a space dedicated to [AAPI voices], but it’s not exclusive to AAPI individuals,’’ Kieger said. “I think the main focus is allowing AAPI individuals to speak their truth.”
Sam Pack, professor of anthropology, was present as a faculty panelist. He discussed how spaces like KAI and the KAAPI Panel are relatively new to Kenyon’s campus, particularly when compared with other affinity groups.
Pack noted that while the Black Student Union (BSU) recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Adelante is nearing its 35th, KAI has only existed for three years. “The very fact that … this organization has only come into existence in the past three years is a glaring indication of not only where things have been, but where things currently stand now.”
Pack emphasized that while Kenyon is not yet where it needs to be in terms of diversity and inclusion, the College is making progress toward acknowledging the experiences of AAPI students and faculty.
“Nobody is going to mistake Kenyon for being a diverse place,” he said. “We’ve got a ways to go. But [we] shouldn’t discount or dismiss the significant strides that Kenyon and everyone associated with Kenyon has made to make this a more diverse and inclusive space.”
Kieger believes that this incremental change begins with gatherings like KAI’s weekly meetings, and relationships with professors built through the KAAPI panel.
“I think it’s definitely important to have smaller spaces such as these … It starts with a shared identity but then, from that it can flourish into wonderful relationships and friendships and everything,” Kieger said.
Moving forward, KAI will continue to amplify AAPI and minority voices across campus. The organization recently coordinated celebrations of the Mid-Autumn Festival, and plans to host a booth at the Fall Harvest Festival in early October.
For Song and Kieger, this work of making space is about community building, particularly when it comes to working with other affinity groups and faculty members at Kenyon.
“One thing we really wanted to focus on this year was collaborating with other organizations … who maybe can share their experiences with us and how they navigate being at Kenyon,” Song said.
Song and Kieger also returned to those who made KAI and the KAAPI panel possible, including current KAI Vice President Mari Holben ’22 — a founding member of KAI — and Associate Professor of Chemistry Simon Garcia, another KAAPI panelist.
“It’s amazing, he helped facilitate everything, and he helps us a lot with navigating difficult situations. He’s just a source of comfort and a really great resource.”
KAI hosts weekly meetings in Bemis Music Room on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m., which are open to all students.