Episode 92: ASU finds community through gala

The Asian American Student Union hosted their annual Gala to fundraise and reinvigorate the Asian American community at UMN.

by Sam Moser


SAM MOSER: Hi everyone, my name is Sam Moser and you’re listening to “In The Know,” a podcast by The Minnesota Daily. Together, we’ll be exploring the University of Minnesota’s students and communities with each episode.

In this episode, we seek to understand the importance of student organizations meeting in person and having the ability to host large scale events during the pandemic. The Asian American Student Union, also known as ASU, hosted their annual Gala event Friday, February 11, and it gave the Daily an opportunity to speak to one of the two event coordinators, a couple of attendees and ASU president, Kyle Hoang. 

KYLE HOANG: And it was a really beautiful event overall. And hopefully, this is something that like, leaves a good impression on next year’s board, that they want to continue to bring it back and things like that. So I would not change it any other way.

MOSER: According to the Student Unions & Activities website, the main purpose of student communities and events are to help people connect to campus. The goal of these communities is to offer a diverse array of opportunities for students to get the most out of their college experience. These opportunities are not only a supplementary benefit of attending a large university, to Hoang, campus organizations play a big role in his education.

HOANG: I can confidently say that, like, I have learned so much more about myself, how I navigate the world, how my way of navigating the world as an Asian American, is valid. I have learned all of those life lessons, through student groups, through social events, through discussions and dialogues.

HOANG: ASU Gala is essentially, it’s very similar to a prom, right? Like every year, there’s a theme to it. People dress up really nicely, according to the theme if they want or not. But it’s a giant dance. It’s a large-scale dance that we host to bring people, to bring people from the community together.

MOSER: ASU’s Gala serves a purpose beyond bringing together the community.

HOANG: A pretty crucial part of Gala is that like, it’s a fundraiser.

MOSER: According to Hoang, ASU donates proceeds from the Gala to the Asian American Organizing Project. All in all, Hoang thinks that this event fulfills its purpose to serve the community during times when it’s needed.

HOANG: I think it’s overall just a really good large scale event to bring community back into active mode after like a long winter break, to get people kind of active and engage and socializing again.

MOSER: After the Gala, Manan Mrig, ASU’s co-event coordinator was happy with the student reaction.

MANAN MRIG: The response was generally positive. I heard a lot of people who went had fun. Met up with some friends and danced. Yeah, the response was actually really good amongst the community. We had a lot of people showing up. And I know, like people who showed up from like, different states, too. So it was just a good crowd.

MOSER: The Daily asked Mrig in hindsight whether he considers the gala a successful endeavor.

MRIG: I don’t know how you measure success. But how I measure it is as long as people who come have fun, that’s a successful event, and we did manage to attract quite a lot of people. And I think just creating that environment, that makes me think that it was a successful endeavor.

MOSER: Since the social event doubled as a fundraiser, ASU was proud to take in plenty of revenue.

MRIG: Yeah, and we definitely did have a goal in mind, which we did achieve.

MOSER: Brynn Bergeson is a freshman that attended the event to support the community. 

BRYNN BERGESON: So, it’s beautiful in here. And it’s just really fun to like, actually be in,  like, with people. Because I love being with people. So actually being in front of people with people that go to the same university, in such a beautiful place.”

MOSER: Bergeson shared her appreciation for all student gatherings on campus. 

BERGESON: I think it brings people together especially because during COVID everybody was like locked away. And for ASU, it’s a cultural thing, like people bond over a culture. Or like, I’m part of some sustainability things. I get to bond with other people or over sustainability and don’t have to like worry about COVID. And I can actually just, connect with people.

MOSER: The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on every single aspect of life since its arrival. Nearly two years since the first quarantine period, the virus’ relevance remains. Mrig explained many ways in which ASU has had to adapt in response to the pandemic over the last two years.

MRIG: Two years ago our board had to actually go all online. So since for like a year, a year and a half, all our events were online, everything that every interaction, every awareness, every like initiative we started had to go online.

MOSER: For ASU and all other student groups, the 2021 to 2022 school year has been yet another transitional period. This time the transition returns to meeting in-person. Mrig said that the majority of the organization’s function does not take place behind a screen anymore.

MRIG: I would say we’re definitely on, like, the more in-person side of things. A lot of the things that we’ve been doing in the last few months have been in person.

MOSER: Whenever there are spikes in COVID, ASU likes to remain flexible.

MRIG: So whenever there’s an alarm that we need to — the cases are going out of hand. We usually, like, tend to be flexible and change the modality of events or just cancel events. But since, I’d say since September, I think we’ve made significant progress and we are mostly in-person now.

MOSER: Not all members of the community despised virtual meetings. Taha Rizvi, a former ASU general member, chose to take an optimistic approach to the online setting. 

TAHA RIZVI: Still talked with friends I made through these organizations, and then they still held virtual events that brought us together as much as they could. So I would say like if you were to put it on, like a scale of like, how much COVID affected, probably only like a three or four out of ten for me.

MOSER: While some people made the most of ASU’s online period, according to Hoang, the overall interaction within the organization plummeted last year.

HOANG: When ASU was online only, there was so much problems with our engagement. We were not able to retain that many community members; it was really hard to get people to come and stay.

MOSER: Hoang emphasized the beneficial aspects resulting from the ability to meet in person.

HOANG: A lot of the times, a lot of things we facilitate in ASU, like workshops or leadership, or like reflecting about our identity to empower each other, a lot of it comes with being able to see people’s face, right, being able to see people’s reaction, like when you share, like the story I shared with you about my immigrant experience, it’s very important that I’m able to see feedback from you, a reaction from you hearing my story. And that’s how trust is built in community.

MOSER: This current year has been an opportunity for students to catch a glimpse of what campus life can be even if it is just in resemblance to a non-pandemic year at the U. Despite restrictions, the organization is back to meeting in-person, and large-scale events such as the ASU Gala are able to proceed.

Hoang shared about his personal journey and how ASU has made an impact on his own life. Hoang attended high school in Minnesota. 

HOANG: There’s not much Asian American folks. Before that, I was from Vietnam, I immigrated here in eighth grade. And so, trying to find a sense of belonging with that kind of culture shock was really big.

MOSER: Hoang credits ASU for connecting him with others who can relate to his situation.

HOANG: Finding a sense of belonging, and being able to be told by people who are similar to you without like, hey, you know, like, your experiences are very valid, like, we experienced this all the time. Not that it’s, not that it’s a good thing, like, but it’s, it’s a sense of like, understanding, mutual understanding.

MOSER: Since joining ASU, Hoang sees the value in empathy, but he also understands the vital importance of having a strong sense of self. The community has empowered him to be more in tune with his Asian American identity.

HOANG: I can only hope to recreate that to other students. Because my experience is very specifically a Vietnamese immigrant kind of experience. And I can only hope to be as flexible and adapt that kind of purpose to other Asian American experiences who might be different than mine.

MOSER: Rizvi was in attendance at the Gala, and he also talked about ASU’s significance in his personal journey through college.

RIZVI: ASU, I would say it’s like probably the most important of my my college experience because I started going in there like my first day. Like, I went in there my first day of freshman year. And they’re like, unless I was sick or something or something like I was in there pretty much every day in their room in the Memorial Union. And then COVID hit, so obviously couldn’t do that. But, still stay connected through like social media and stuff and their events, and like I think it’s given me, it was like sort of the stepping stone to a really larger community on campus.

MOSER: Hoang reiterated his belief that a classroom setting can only do so much for a student. He used the phrase “student life” to summarize the entire college experience, and without opportunities such as the gala, student life just isn’t quite as fulfilling.

HOANG: The way our University advertises how great our student life is, I think that definitely comes with part of the package, right? Like I think like student life, social life. Being able to find a sense of belonging is definitely part of the college experience.

MOSER: Hoang stresses the significance of ASU’s presence in the lives of students on campus.

HOANG: Finding a network, finding support, finding resources is so important, considering the lack of accessibility that we have towards those things. And that is where ASU steps in. That is where all the student groups that serve BIPOC communities comes in and able to uplift them to that point.

MOSER: There is not only a need for these communities, but there is a need for their in-person accessibility to students who want to get the most out of their student life.

HOANG: I think being able to see the community having such a fun time, seeing people from like different colleges come. It just really shows like how our Asian American community can be so flexible and fluid we don’t all have to be in the same space. But we can still feel like a sense of identity empowerment.

MOSER: Hoang appreciated the dancing and the dressing and the socializing, but he also enjoys to look at the bigger picture of the ASU Gala.

HOANG: At the end of the day it is just a dance. Right? It is just a dance. But like, it can be more than that. Just seeing [the] community happy just makes me happy. But also, being, knowing at the end of the day, like it’s not just a dance. We were also fundraising for a nonprofit for that serves Asian American community in the Twin Cities. Also makes me like, like, like, feel really proud of how well we did our event.

MOSER: Nowadays, social events can coexist with COVID-19 in a safe and engaging way. According to ASU and Gala attendees, students value the “college experience,” and they want to get involved, join student groups, and learn a thing or two about themselves along the way.

As we come to a close, The Daily would like to thank Kyle Hoang, Manan Mrig, Taha Rizvi and Brynn Bergeson for taking the time to share their thoughts with us. And to all listeners, thank you for tuning in. We’ll see you next time. 

I’m Sam Moser, and this, is In The Know.