APILF student advocates revive AAPI home at Georgetown

Published March 28, 2023

Illustration by Deborah Han

Recent student efforts led by members of the Asian-Pacific Islander Leadership Forum (APILF) have restored the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) home, which is slated to open in fall 2023. First established in 2015 after AAPI students expressed their interest in an on-campus affinity space, the home had shut down for the past few years due to COVID-19 and insufficient funding. Now, advocates for the home’s renewal, including students and alumni, hope to establish the home as a permanent community and safe space for AAPI students.

The initial AAPI home, which housed five students, provided a space for dialogue about racial issues and social justice. Centered around community and educational programming on related AAPI issues, the home was a hub for an organized AAPI community on Georgetown’s campus. 

Heejin Hahn (CAS ’20), a resident of the AAPI home her senior year, expressed the importance the home’s members placed on discussing racial issues and creating a space for other AAPI students where those conversations could be had.

“There were a lot of Asian American spaces on campus that celebrated culture and a lot of them were having meaningful discussions and things like that, but we wanted to have a space that was specifically dedicated to education around centering social justice and anti-racism,” Hahn said. “Asian Americans, I think, are the largest non-white population at Georgetown, […] and a lot of the reasons why we created this space is, I felt like we were the least organized, like Asian Americans like the least engaged in terms of student movements.”

The AAPI home originally closed when Georgetown’s campus shut down at the start of the pandemic. Margaret Lin (CAS ’23), a facilitator of APILF, explained that rather than going on hiatus like other permanent homes, the home had to shut down because it was temporary and reliant on the Office of Residential Living (ORL) for funding.

As a living learning community (LLC), the AAPI home was originally non-permanent. The upcoming home will continue operating as an LLC managed by the ORL, which oversees the operations of all LLCs on campus. Now, although the AAPI home has been restored, its non-permanent nature continues to pose some financial difficulties and logistical issues like the co-ed nature of the home.

Other affinity homes on Georgetown’s campus, like Casa Latina, a home for the Latino community at Georgetown, or Black House, a home for Black students, operate as permanent fixtures under the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access (CMEA), granting them more access to important resources from the CMEA.

“The way that Casa Latina and Black House work right now is that the houses themselves were granted, or at least partially funded, by alumni. And so that was something that was very useful for them in order to have a permanent space,” Lin explained. “Because once you have a house that’s sort of like the main thing, you can just appeal for recurring costs, which the CMEA does have some budget that they can give to you.”

Lin expressed her frustrations that minority affinity groups on campus are expected to demonstrate their value and contribution to the campus before gaining a permanent affinity space. She explained, however, that the transition from LLC to permanent home was possible, and had been done by many Georgetown affinity groups before. She shared that the transition to a permanent AAPI home is a future goal.

“I just wanna emphasize that a lot of the work that APILF has done before us was super important,” Lin said. “And we followed a lot of the legacies, basically, of Black House and Casa to get to this point here.” 

Judy Zhou (CAS ’24), a facilitator of APILF, said that she wanted to renew the home to construct an environment where AAPI students could connect to their culture and find community on campus. In light of recent hate crimes and community-wide trauma, she hopes the home will become a space for students to process these events together, and embrace their identities.

“I didn’t really feel like there was any space on campus that really fit what I was looking for in terms of the people and also the mission of these clubs,” Zhou said. “I think the space is super important because it provides an avenue for students not just like me, but other students who don’t feel a part of the campus community.” 

AAPI students make up approximately 11 percent of Georgetown’s undergraduate population, yet the university lags behind its peers in terms of support for AAPI culture, scholarship, and student life. Nearby, the University of Maryland sponsors a linguistic and cultural immersion home program called the Language House for students of Chinese and Japanese, and both the George Washington University and American University offer minors in Asian American studies. At the same time, a growing number of universities across the country, including Yale, Cornell, Pomona, and Tufts have established Asian American cultural centers that offer regular programming, mentoring, and scholarships for AAPI students.

“A lot of universities, they’ve had cultural homes and cultural affinity spaces for a while,” Zhou said. “So this is a lot overdue, and obviously that’s why a lot of people at Georgetown were pushing for this, knowing that at other universities they’ve seen as much, if not more, opportunities to exist in those spaces.” Zhou added that student demand for the home has persisted since 2015. 

Aside from improving Georgetown’s cultural life, an AAPI home at Georgetown would also provide a much-needed space for students to process and resist the increasing prevalence of anti-Asian hate across the country. A report published by the University of Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that the number of anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 224 percent from 2020 to 2021. 

“I think that the rebirth of the home on campus comes at a really, really crucial time because of the pandemic and the hate crimes that have happened in the last couple of years, like the one on Lunar New Year,” Zhou said. “I think it’s super important to have a safe space where the Asian American community can come together and read and process these kinds of traumatic hate crimes.”

According to both Lin and Zhou, a massive influx of support from the AAPI community and the broader Georgetown community followed the announcement of the home’s return in the fall. They shared their gratitude for the community organizations who have continued to show logistical support and spread the word of the home’s return. 

“I would say the people who live in Black House and Casa have been such a big support,” Zhou said. “As we have gone through this process, we’ve been really reliant not just on all the advocacy work that they have done in the past, but also the people that live in this house and then do the work in the present.” 

Furthermore, Lin emphasized that many students expressed interest in the home prior to the official close of resident applications. 

“I think it has been a really exciting thing happening on campus,” Zhou added. “For the Asian American community here, it’s the first time anything of its kind has happened.”

Lin and Zhou said that APILF relied heavily on the previous efforts of the AAPI home’s pre-lockdown residents in the efforts to revive the home over the past year. They added that these residents, alongside other community organizers, were essential in maintaining the home’s legacy over the course of lockdown. Other than current seniors, no current members of the student body have any personal memory of the home’s past.

As students continue to work towards cementing the home’s place at Georgetown, organizers emphasized its role as a central place for community organization and wellness.

Jennifer Sugijanto (COL ’20), one of the past residents, said that while she celebrates its return, as the home continues to grow and develop its focus should remain on meeting the evolving needs of the AAPI community at Georgetown. She reaffirmed the importance of having such a space when reflecting on the goals both past and current organizers for the AAPI home shared for its development. 

“Being able to have a physical space where you can do that organizing always felt really powerful to us,” Sugijanto said. “Having a physical representation of Asian American students’ organizing power on campus felt like that said something.”

As the newest iteration of the AAPI home works to solidify its roster of residents for the next academic year, the exact trajectory for its future is still uncertain. Both Lin and Zhou emphasized the separation between APILF and the home’s residents. While APILF and the AAPI home will continue to work symbiotically, they shared that APILF had no intentions of acting beyond its supporting role or directly dictating the home’s future. 

“It’s really dependent on the people that are chosen for this home,” Zhou said. “It’s the people that are chosen for this home next year that are going to drive the mission forward.”

For the facilitators of the AAPI home, the home’s long-awaited reestablishment on campus has the potential to make a great impact on the lives of AAPI students and is just the first step towards their goals for the future.

“It’s important to think about how much this will make a difference in even one student’s life going forward, to take that moment to recognize that this is something that we’ve achieved here,” Lin said. “This is a stepping stone towards a lot of changes that can hopefully happen.”

Ajani Jones
Ajani is a Junior in the College majoring in Linguistics. He is the Executive Editor for Resources, Diversity, and Inclusion. He is also really, REALLY excited for the Percy Jackson TV show and will not shut up about it (still won't).

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