2012 Collegiate Leadership Conference participants pose in front of the Capitol Building.

WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) held its fourth annual Collegiate Leadership Conference in the nation’s capital from June 7 to 10.

Sponsored by UPS Foundation and Southwest Airlines, the conference gathered student leaders from around the country to explore ways to effectively create positive change on their own campuses and beyond. Over an intensive three-day program, 10 Asian Pacific American college students were introduced to legislative issues affecting the APA community and the role APA civil rights organizations play in affecting public policy.

On Thursday evening, participants met Eddie Lee, former youth outreach director for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), during a welcome reception. Lee spoke about his decision to leave school to work for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, as well as the issues he was involved in through WHIAAPI. Participants related to Lee’s story and were inspired by his journey and his work.

The following days of the conference were packed with interactive workshops and seminars that exposed participants to a wide variety of issues facing the APA community. Participants learned about topics ranging from educational policy to hate crimes to disaster relief and environmental justice.

Representatives from APIA Vote, National Korean American Resource and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans), National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), the National Education Association, and the Anti-Defamation League led engaging activities and discussions that connected participants directly with the issues presented.

During an “APAs in Government” panel, Jason Tengco of WHIAAPI, Paige Heckathorn from the office of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Krystal Ka’ai from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus shared their experiences and gave valuable advice to participants interested in getting involved in public service.

Participants also had the chance to explore D.C. in the evenings through various outings. Floyd Mori, JACL national director emeritus, provided an informative tour of the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism. Participants also visited the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, where they viewed an exhibit showcasing contemporary Asian American artists and had a chance to see the portrait of former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.

On the final day of the conference, Joyce Yin from NAKASEC led a workshop that emphasized the power of storytelling as tool for community organizing. She also led a simulation of student groups advocating for the establishment of an Asian American studies program, which illustrated the power dynamics and group effort necessary for leading an effective movement.

Throughout the conference, participants had the chance to use their own leadership skills and experience from their own campuses to develop a plan to raise awareness about critical APA issues in their own communities. Groups created project plans around immigration reform, hate crimes and political engagement, and presented their plans to the rest of the participants and the conference coordinators on Sunday.

This year’s program was coordinated by Ford Program Coordinator Christine Munteanu, Norman Y. Mineta Fellow Hillary Nakano and Daniel K. Inouye Fellow Stephanie Otani-Sunamoto.

Conference participant reflections:

“The conference definitely awakened my views and changed my perspective of what a leader is and how we as students can build a greater movement for our campuses.” — Jenny Lee, UC Davis

“The JACL Collegiate Leadership Conference gave me a comprehensive overview of APIA issues from the perspective of various APIA advocacy organizations and engaged me in discussions that I would never have had at school and elsewhere.” — Olivia Lu, Barnard College

The other participants were Rebecca Ozaki (University of Illinois), Jill Romero (Macalester College), Nicole Sakioka (San Francisco State University), Manabu Taketani (Calvin College), Kayla Tran (University of Florida), Kelly Uchima (University of Illinois), James Wen (Columbia University), and Hannah Yan (Barnard College).

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