Increase in diversity at UWRF leads to growth in Asian organizations

Posted December 5, 2018

UW-River Falls has seen a slight increase in diversity in recent years, and along with the growth have come changes in identity-based organizations on campus, especially for Asian and Asian American students.

Data collected by the university show that during the 2013-2014 school year, white students represented 89 percent of enrollment, but last year the number stood at 87 percent. During the same period, students of color increased in all ethnic and racial categories except for American Indian. After white students, Hispanic and Latino students now are the second largest group on campus, up nearly 58 percent since 2013-2014 to a total of 210 individuals last year, according to UWRF data.

Students in the Asian, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander group, which in 2013-2014 was the largest non-white category on campus, are now the third largest ethnicity. University data reported 168 students in the group last academic year, a nearly 13 percent increase from 2013-2014.

The Asian American Student Association (AASA) was started back in the 1980s by a group of Hmong students. Originally the AASA used to be called Hmong Student Association, according to Martin Olague, director for the Center of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.

“A long time ago, this was like 25 years ago, it was Hmong Student Association,” Olague said, “and somewhere in there they wanted to be Asian American Student Association… When the Asian population got more diverse they had to broaden the group.”

Now, AASA consists of about 20 individuals, two of whom are from non-Hmong backgrounds. Gina Yang, sophomore and president of AASA, said that it’s hard to recruit non-Hmong students because there are other identity-based clubs on the UWRF campus more suited for other Asian students. Although a student does not have to be Asian to join the clubs, there is usually not much desire from non-Asian students to become members.

“Mainly Hmong people come to our group because other people on campus think we’re just mainly Asians who can join the group,” Yang said, “but we try to get people of other backgrounds to come during our Welcome Week recruitment.”

Besides AASA, UWRF has two other student organizations based on Asian identity.

Global Programming Association (GPA) is a club that any student can join, but its goal is to help specifically international students get familiar with American campus life. It helps them adjust to their new home along with creating campus events in order to promote diversity in other cultures. While GPA is technically not meant for international Asian students, many of the international students have been from Asian countries such as China, Japan and Taiwan.

Olague, who is also the faculty advisor for all of the identity-based clubs, explained that “When you start adding in international students, international students have a different identity (compared to) the Asians in the United States. They would prefer to celebrate their own culture in their own way.”

The Korean Student Association is for students who are interested in knowing more about Korean culture.

According to UWRF’s list of identity-based organizations, there have been other Asian-based clubs such as Chinese Student Association and Indian Student Association, but due to a lack of students interested in reviving them, they now are inactive.