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Unmuting and Uniting: St. Mark's Hosts Virtual Asian American Footsteps Conference

Unmuting and Uniting: St. Mark's Hosts Virtual Asian American Footsteps Conference
Jackie Waters

On Sunday, April 24, St. Mark's virtually welcomed over 350 students and adults from 34 independent schools in New England to the 11th Asian American Footsteps Conference (AAFC). The AAFC is the biggest regional affinity conference specifically for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students. This year's AAFC was coordinated by St. Mark's faculty members Starry Zhu, Franklin Chen, and Lin Yang alongside St. Mark's students on the planning committee. The theme for the conference was "unmuting and uniting."

"It felt like a dream finally came true to host the 11th Asian American Footsteps Conference (AAFC)," shared Associate Director of Community and Equity Starry Zhu. "I attended the AAFC hosted by Deerfield Academy in 2018, which was so inspiring that I decided to bring it to St. Mark's on our bus ride back."

"Although the conference was still virtual this year, I was so blown away by all the participants' enthusiasm to engage, their eagerness to learn, and their longing for community," said Zhu. "I'm also incredibly proud of all the planning, marketing, and technology work completed by the 33-person student planning committee at St. Mark's. Without them, AAFC 2022 wouldn't have been so smooth, engaging, and powerful!"

The St. Mark's student planning committee worked tirelessly over the past few months, designing and revising workshop proposals, and planning micro-affinity group sessions. Together, they presented 11 workshops, more than half of the total number of workshops offered at this year's conference. They also lead all eight affinity group meetings during the conference.

"Hosting a conference is no small undertaking, and AAFC provides an important opportunity for pan-Asian students to hone their leadership skills," recognized Assistant Director of College Counseling Lin Yang, who "appreciated seeing students draw on their own experiences and interests to bring every aspect of this conference to life," including facilitating important conversations that can be difficult to have outside of "intentional spaces" like those provided at the conference. "I saw our students articulating who they are and what they value, then channeling that into creating spaces for others to come together and do the same," shared Yang. "These moments are the ones that are so satisfying to see as an educator, where I can tangibly see students grow."

Franklin Chen, Chinese teacher and chairholder of the Antony and Elsa Hill Chair in Asian Studies, described the planning and organizing as "nothing short of a roller coaster ride" given that COVID forced St. Mark's to switch from an in-person to a virtual format just a few months before the conference. "The resilience that our planning committee exhibited was beyond incredible," said Chen. "When everything we had worked so hard for came to fruition on April 24, the energy of excitement and passion shone through and across zoom screens, breaking down barriers and bringing the community together in such a powerful way." Chen believes "it is an important reminder that creating and maintaining affinity spaces like AAFC is so crucial for AAPI identifying students and faculty to feel seen and empowered."

One St. Mark's student who helped plan this year's AAFC and also facilitated a workshop was IV Former Linda Li, who found the conference experience "enriching" and enjoyed both contributing and learning from others. "From the planning process, to the actual conference, to the debrief meeting, I really felt like I had a voice in this group, and I contributed to bettering our community!" said Li. "Furthermore, it was such a great opportunity to learn and listen to other voices and opinions, allowing me to ponder my own ideas and making room for improvements."

Fellow IV Former, planning committee member, and workshop facilitator Jackie Huang agreed, noting that "it was a very memorable and fun experience to take part in both planning and attending!" Huang also said, "it was such an inspiring conference to see so many Asian students of diverse yet similar backgrounds convene to unite and unmute."

III Former Lori Cui had an eventful AAFC, as well; she hosted two workshops and facilitated a micro-affinity group, all via Zoom from her dorm's common room. "It was great to connect with so many peers that looked and had the same experiences as me," shared Cui. "Can't wait for St. Paul's 2023 AAFC (hopefully in person)!"

Congratulations to all of the St. Mark's community members who made this year's AAFC conference possible, including:

Student Planning Committee members: Tiffany Ahn, Hannah Cha, JC Chen, Lori Cui, Carl Guo, Julie He, Jackie Huang, Karry Kim, Boson Kwan, Sophie Ledonio, Insel Lee, Linda Li, Mina Li, Sunny Li, Olivia Lin, Emma Lu, Martin Ma, Diana Oh, Sooyeong Park, Cathy Shi, Anika Sukthankar, Brandon Tang, Amanda Wang, Laurie Wang, Reina Wang, Coco Xia, Judy Xie, Katelyn Yang, Ingrid Yeung, Addie Zhang, Steven Zhang, and Taylor Zhou.

Workshop and affinity group leaders: Tiffany Ahn, Divi Bhaireddy, Hannah Cha, Lori Cui, Louise He, Yejee Hwang, Sunoo Jeong, Brian Kim, Diane Kwon, Sophie Ledonio, Grace Lee, Delin Liu, Emma Lu, Diana Oh, Shreeya Sareddy, Maya Scully, Cathy Shi, Nick Sparrow, Anika Sukthankar, Brandon Tang, Lauren Tran, Amanda Wang, Judy Xie, Katelyn Yang, Kelly Yang, Ingrid Yeung, Addie Zhang, and Steven Zhang.

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