It’s difficult to sum up an Oberlin experience with one occurrence. My memory is dotted with late nights of baking bread at Third World Co-op, conducting the suave OC Marching Band in the Big Parade, and stimulating conversation over chicken pesto pizza after Catholic mass in Wilder.
However, as I look at the scatter plot of my Oberlin remembrances, I realize that the synthesizing event occurred during my senior year. In mid-February 2006, after six months of fundraisers, planning discussions, telephone meetings, and seemingly endless anxiety, the 14th Biennial Asian/Pacific American Midwest Student Conference, “Refocusing Our Lenses: Confronting Contemporary Issues of Globalization and Transnationalism,” finally transpired. The first conference occurred in the late 1970s, and was started by students who sought to fill the gaps in Asian American Studies that was lacking in the curriculum at that time. The conference continued to take place every other year, and I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the co-chairs my senior term. “Refocusing Our Lenses” sustained the tradition of the first conference, reflecting student interests and concerns that were not being thoroughly addressed on campus.
The “Refocusing Our Lenses” mission stated that the conference purpose was to “explore the impact of globalization in a transnational Asia and Oceania through the foci of human issues, the environment and economics.” In doing so, we integrated academia, activism and service--three crucial aspects of my Oberlin education--into one event, where top scholars, organizers, scientists, and students came together to discuss important matters in our communities. It was powerful realizing that a team of undergraduate students, of which I was a part, was responsible for organizing a conference that was so highly praised by its guests and attendees. I met a number of the speakers (many of whom were my heroes) three months prior at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, where I was humbled when people asked what graduate school program I was in or what college I taught at, even though I was a measly undergrad.
“Refocusing Our Lenses” was a culmination of all I had worked for as an Oberlin student. As a Comparative American Studies and History major, Bonner Scholar, and member of the student of color activist community on campus, “Refocusing Our Lenses” fused what I learned inside and outside of the classroom, and also showed me that students had the power to enable progress. For instance, the Fifteenth Biennial Conference removed the “Pacific” from their title, which was one of the goals of “Refocusing Our Lenses.” I was thrilled to realize that “Refocusing Our Lenses” is not merely a single dot in my personal Oberlin experience, but an event whose legacy affects others and permeates the thought processes, ideals and actions of students who continue to advocate for Ethnic Studies, equality and social justice on campus today.