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Students Reflect on Christine Chen’s Study Group at Harvard IOP

We’re proud of Christine and the legacy she established at Harvard’s Institute of Politics! The spring semester she spent as a resident fellow allowed her to inspire and educate the next generation of leaders about the history of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, how our communities have built power over the decades, and what the future holds. Most impactful was Christine leveraging her network to bring  leaders from the community so her students were able to gain insight into what it is like to direct an organization like APIAVote. 

We asked her students what some of their highlights were:

 “It surprised me to learn how interconnected the entire AAPI advocacy community seems! There are a lot of different organizations doing the work, but they all seem to connect with one another at a level that really surprised me. Christine really helped highlight how interconnected the community is by connecting me to my local advocacy networks back home,” shared Anna MacLennan, Christine’s Ground-outreach liaison.

“One of the biggest takeaways from the study groups was the importance of coalition building, especially unlikely coalitions. I still think about the unlikely coalitions that Michigan State Senator Stephanie Chang built to get her agenda passed,” Sung Kwang Oh, Christine’s Student Groups Liaison, explained.

“I think a big thing we talked about was how many of the guest speakers felt like they weren’t qualified to run for office, or lead an organization, and how they had to overcome those doubts in order to do the good work they do. Knowing that you have the ability to make a change is important,” Anoushka Chander, Christine’s Chief of Staff, observed. 

Christine did more than just teach students through her study group, however. She also got involved with campus organizations and the local community!

Nicholas Jung, Chair of the AAPI Caucus at Harvard University shared: “I worked with Christine to host an Affirmative Action series to (1) counter many myths and misconceptions about the SFFA case challenging affirmative action at Harvard (and in higher education, working its way to SCOTUS); (2) counter the SFFA narrative that they speak for AAPI students.” 

In his first event with Christine, only 40 people showed up. “It was incredibly disappointing. We had spent so much time and effort in research and developing the run-of-show. But, Christine came over and said: ‘Forget the event planning, you need to build momentum by meeting people where they’re at to get people to turn up. It does not matter if you have the perfect slogan or message if no one shows up to hear it.’

With Christine’s advice, Nicholas and the rest of the caucus redoubled their efforts to boost turnout by broadcasting these events to their respective Caucus members, adding two more AAPI-affiliated student groups to the event, and reaching out to non-AAPI groups to broadcast and reach out to their members. The second event had over 150 people show up with dozens more watching online.

“The momentum from this event has continued even into the summer as finals have ended: students from across Harvard schools and programs have used the connections from the second event to not only speak out against SFFA but also successfully lobbied Harvard for AAPI students to, for the first time ever, receive stoles and an AAPI-specific ceremony uplifting AAPI communities with our families for graduation week. Christine’s insight to focus on coalition building has boosted AAPI activism and already led to a couple ‘wins,’” Nicholas shared.

Christine also worked with Prat Mallik, Chair of the Harvard Votes Challenge, a non-partisan, university-wide effort organized by the IOP and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School challenging each of Harvard’s 12 degree-granting schools to increase voter registration and civic participation among eligible students. Prat shared: “Christine was an incredible guest and advisor to the work that we did at the Harvard Votes Challenge. I particularly found her insights with regards to building coalitions with AAPI groups on campus, especially given how fragmented organizing has been across the different affinity groups on campus.”

He added, “Christine provided us with some incredible advice for 50+ state/territory organizations in the fall and is preparing to scale up our outreach at a similar level as 2020. We also had some great conversation with regards to technology and organizing tools like those used by APIAVote and Rock the Vote.”

Finally, student Tania Laden had this to say about Christine: “Christine shared her journey in AAPI community activism and the historical events that marked her experience. Many AAPI students in the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration (MCMPA) program were unfamiliar with the history of AAPI activism in civil rights, despite our diverse backgrounds in international development, diplomacy, government, and military service. Christine helped us to recognize the ways that we were all connected to that history and the opportunity we have to contribute to the APPI community regardless of our career sector or focus. She also made numerous connections and introductions for MCMPA students to members of the AAPI network in government and politics. Christine continues to serve as a resource for students who are navigating career transitions and working towards professional development goals for the future. “

Christine’s students will now continue their education with a greater understanding of the AAPI advocacy space, insight into how to continue uplifting and building power for our communities, and new relationships with like-minded individuals in the community.