By Kayla Del
The founding of the College’s Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) originated as a lighthearted idea between family friends and later blossomed into a recognized student organization with campuswide support.
Co-presidents Kathleen Mai, junior biology major, and Minh Tran, junior biology major, established VSA as a way to emphasize the Vietnamese experience and bring attention to their culture, values and traditions. The organization prides itself on love and the celebration of culture, with hopes of enriching the College’s Vietnamese community and welcoming all people.
“We thought that establishing a VSA would be a great way to showcase our culture for anyone who was interested—not only for people in the Vietnamese community, but our campus as a whole,” said Mai. “We want to have a safe and open environment where everyone in the campus community can come and learn about our culture.”
The values and philosophies of VSA are that of diversity and inclusion. The organization aims to highlight the whole Asian experience and build a family, creating a safe space for community members to reach out and relate to one another.
“While Kathleen and I were brainstorming the idea of this organization, she was the only Vietnamese person I knew at [the College],” said Tran.
Although only a new organization, VSA has quickly connected Vietnamese students to one another and encouraged friendship. Within the College community, VSA has created an easy outlet for students with cultural similarities to find one another.
Coming out of a tumultuous 2020 year that gave way to a significant rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, cultural organizations like VSA are a way to combat negative representations of Asia through education and awareness.
“Unfortunately, through our school systems, we don’t really have an accurate representation for Asian Americans,” said Madison Bui, junior communications major and member of VSA’s executive board. “They often gloss over many big historical events and portray Asia in a superficial, stereotypical manner. In joining VSA, I want to help more Vietnamese Americans at [the College] feel like their culture is welcomed and that they have a safe space to call home.”
VSA has received an overwhelming amount of support from the College community. Other student organizations and the general campus community advocated for VSA to become a recognized student organization, a great reward for the tremendous effort put in by the executive board members. Being a recognized student organization will allow VSA to have more opportunities and the ability to reach broader audiences, educating and connecting with a wider group of students.
This campuswide support is a testament to the values and togetherness of the student organizations on campus.
“This is the dynamic of the cultural organizations at [the College],” said Tran. “With the founding of VSA, it's not just strictly Vietnamese. Everyone is blended together. Every club is open to anyone. It’s a really beautiful thing to see that type of support across cultures and across people and across the entire campus community.”
For many Vietnamese Americans, including Sarah Nguyen, freshman biology major and VSA executive board member, high school was spent feeling like she did not belong. Growing up with a lack of representation and without people to relate to on a cultural level is a recipe for feeling like an outsider. Nguyen now identifies her membership in VSA as the perfect way to get connected with her culture and her peers simultaneously.
“My membership in VSA represents my belonging to a community where I have no apprehensions about what others think of me or if I am accepted because I know that everyone there understands me,” Tran said. “Not just because I am Vietnamese or they are Vietnamese, but because that is the culture of the organization we have put in place.”