Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Swarthmore Asian Organization (SAO) is shifting its focus from a cultural, social and politically-oriented club to a mainly political organization. This shift was announced during the “SAO’s 30th (Rebirth)day” event, which was hosted in the Intercultural Center last Friday. The event detailed the history of SAO as well as the reasoning behind the political shift.
SAO decided last semester to carry out the shift in order to be more inclusive and to return to its historical roots as a politically-focused club.
“We feel that some people were excluded from SAO because we’re seen as an East Asian club” said Co-President David Chan ‘19.
SAO officially is an umbrella group for Asian, Asian-American, Pacific Islander and Pacific Islander-American students on campus. Since its founding in 1987, many other Asian groups have emerged on campus, while SAO itself became predominantly East Asian. SAO was one of the founding members of the Intercultural Center (IC) in 1991.
The club’s original political mission focused on increasing admissions of Asian-American students into Swarthmore College as well as instituting an Asian-American Studies program. The program focuses on the experiences of Asian-Americans, to be contrasted with the college’s existing Asian Studies program, which focuses on area studies of the Asian continent.
Statistics presented during the event showed that admissions rates for Asian-Americans were consistently below all other demographic categories from the period of 1993-1995.
According to Chan, the mission to increase Asian-American admissions into Swarthmore has been a success, as he notes that Asian-Americans are the second largest demographic in Swarthmore. However, the mission to create an Asian-American Studies department remains unfulfilled. Currently, the college offers two Asian-American literature classes. Previously, the college also offered Asian-American related classes in sociology and film studies, which have since been discontinued.
SAO’s current mission is to focus more on building bridges with other Intercultural Center (IC) groups. It aims to have more “SAO Teahouses” that discuss issues pertaining to the Asian-American community. “We’re definitely doing a ‘model minority’ teahouse with Kehilah and SASS,” Chan said.
While the shift was decided before President Trump’s election, the current political climate was cited as something also particularly urgent.
“I think our mission to become a more political group is more prescient because of all the racist things [Trump] says in the media,” Chan said.
Leon Chen ‘18, who was SAO’s Co-President during the 2016 calendar year, endorsed the change in direction.
“The reason why we have this shift was we didn’t just want this to be a club for East Asian kids who just wanted to hang out with each other and talk about ‘Boba is so good!’, and stuff like that,” Chen said.
Dakota Gibbs ‘19 also agreed with the changes, and considered the event quite successful.
“It’s good to see that there’s a lot more students here. For my experience with a lot of the SAO events is that there’s been low student turnout to these places,” Gibbs said.