First-year students and transfer students in their first year who have already achieved academic success at the University were honored at the Success Scholars reception Feb. 23. The Success Scholars program recognizes new students who earned a GPA of 3.75…
Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2023 on a Student-Centric Episode of the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
April is a time for the Syracuse University community to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
Celebrated nationally in May, the University hosts its annual AAPI Heritage Month in April so all campus members can join in honoring the histories, cultural diversity, identities and contributions of AAPI communities.
This year’s theme is “Community Coming Together: Strength in Unity,” representing the University’s diverse AAPI community uniting across differences to demonstrate a strong voice that can face challenges together. It’s an important and timely theme, especially following the challenges of the last three years, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a troubling rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and bias incidents.
MaryKate Keevins ’24 and Lia Margolis ’23, two of the AAPI Planning Committee members, share why they were passionate about planning this year’s events and what they hope the campus community takes away from the celebrations.
“Being a part of the AAPI community on campus has given me so much opportunity to reflect on how much I appreciate my heritage in all the different ways it manifests. I really find that cultural celebrations like what we do with AAPI Heritage Month is important, because it not only allows for us, on the committee, to create events that reflect us, it also allows for other people to get in touch with either their own heritage or heritages of people that they don’t know too much about and they can learn,” says Keevins, who is studying television, radio and film in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
“I’m very passionate about the activist social justice side of AAPI Heritage Month. And so from that perspective, there’s been, I think, denial of a lot of the struggles that the AAPI community has been through in the U.S. and of course people are paying more attention to it with the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes,” says Margolis, a student in the School of Architecture. “But I hope people want to learn more about the AAPI stories and experiences and enjoy all of the fun activities we have planned.”
AAPI Heritage Month began with a celebration kickoff on March 31 and includes speakers, exhibitions, performances and student organization events. Some of the highlights include Paving the Way Alumni Speaker – Sharon Lee ’14, G’15 (April 13), AAPI Mental Health Awareness Workshop (April 18), AAPI Heritage Month Commemorative Lecture with Hua Hsu (April 20), and ASIA Night (April 21).
On this student-centric “’Cuse Conversation,” we hear from Keevins and Margolis to discuss this year’s celebrations, what their cultural heritage means to them and how their time at Syracuse University helped them discover more about their identities.
Check out episode 136 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring MaryKate Keevins ’24 and Lia Margolis ’23. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01What is your cultural background, and what does your cultural heritage mean to you?
Keevins: I was originally born in Kazakhstan, a country in Central Asia, but was adopted to the United States when I was an infant. I’ve grown up in a cross-cultural environment because I feel very connected to my Kazakh heritage, but I also feel connected to the Irish heritage of my family. That’s given me a lot of perspective because I’ve gotten to understand how I can relate to different cultures, whether it’s ones that look like me or ones that I’ve just become a part of. … Being a part of this community and the committee allows me to advocate for myself and my own background. It’s really important to me that we highlight not just the larger identities that may be more common in our community, but also every single person that’s part of it.
Margolis: I was adopted at 8 months old from Guangzhou, a city in China. I was adopted by two white, Jewish American parents, and I love them very much. I grew up with both Jewish American values and culture, but I also grew up going to Chinese school, where they had traditional Chinese dance classes, Chinese yo-yo classes and traditional brush painting classes. My heritage is a big part of who I am. It’s very comforting, my cultural heritage and background, because it’s something I grew up with.
02Why did you get involved with planning the University’s AAPI Heritage Month celebrations?
Keevins: I went to some of the heritage month events last year and really enjoyed it. I was invited to join the committee for this year, and I love having a voice in how we organize it. We wanted to come up with themes for our events that influence how we think about our identities. That’s a big part of AAPI Heritage Month. While it’s somewhat similar each year, we have a different connection to each year’s theme. This year, we’re incorporating a theme of our diversity, but also our unity in diversity, and that’s unique. We’re all here because we believe in sharing our heritage. That’s what really makes me very passionate about being a part of this committee and this AAPI community on campus.
Margolis: I was involved in picking out the themes for this year’s celebration, as well as spearheading the anti-Asian hate crime exhibition on display this year. I’m really proud of how the exhibition turned out and I hope it has an impact on our campus.
03How has your time at Syracuse helped you better connect with your heritage?
Margolis: I didn’t find anything that really resonated with my cultural heritage my freshman year, but I also wasn’t really looking for it. Sophomore year I became involved with the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) Syracuse chapter, first as the secretary, then I became the president. So NOMAS, although it’s not explicitly Asian American centered, was very welcoming for me and was a great way for me to connect with other multicultural people. I’m also part of Asian Students in America (ASIA) which has led me to a lot of the great activities and the Asian American community here on campus.
Keevins: When I came to Syracuse it was in 2020, not necessarily the best year for making social connections. In that first year, I was definitely looking for a community, but it was difficult to get involved. Sophomore year, I became so much more engaged in the community. I joined ASIA, I joined my sorority, Kappa Phi Lambda, and I got to meet more people in the community, whether they were a part of the organizations I was in or not. That allowed me to find a deeper community at Syracuse, opening up my perspectives while also allowing me to feel more confident in sharing my own heritage.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.