Cultural Spaces at Harvard: The Asian American Womxn's Association

Category Student Voices


College student, Cayla
Cayla Lee Class of '21
Authored on November 23, 2019


I never realized the importance of having a cultural community until I came to a place as diverse as Harvard.

While I’ve been exposed to a degree of diversity that I’ve never been exposed to before and while this diversity has challenged me to expand my worldview, I’ve also realized the importance of finding spaces within this incredibly large community that is attentive to my experiences as an Asian American woman. In particular, throughout my years here at Harvard, the Asian American Womxn’s Association (AAWA) has become a special home for me—it’s become a space in which I am surrounded by those who inspire me, grow with me, and encourage me to become more critical, self-reflexive, and confident. Without a doubt, my Harvard experience would not be anywhere near as fulfilling without AAWA.

In light of this, I wanted to share with you what being a part of AAWA is like. I hope that this can give you a better understanding of cultural spaces at Harvard in general, too!

Broadly, AAWA holds two kinds of events: community-building and dialogue, though the two overlap in many ways.

In terms of community-building, AAWA has a “Sib Program” (which many student organizations at Harvard have), which pairs first- or second-year students with third- or fourth-year students to facilitate a mentoring relationship. My big sib helped me so much through the ups and downs of my first year here—she helped me navigate summer opportunities, talked with me about all the good and bad things that were happening in our lives, advised me on what academic subjects to explore, and became one of my closest friends. I have such amazing memories with her, and she really inspired me because, by watching her make her way through the world, I was able to see a future for myself in a place that was so new and strange. Even though she graduated after my first year, she’s continued to shape my college experience and I still think about the advice and love she’s given me.

Apart from the Sib Program, AAWA hosts a lot of study breaks to create spaces for people to come together, eat food, and de-stress from our hectic college lives. For example, earlier this year, AAWA hosted a Mochi & Boba study break, where we ate ice cream and mochi and drank milk tea with boba. It’s hard to find Boba in Harvard Square, so it’s so great to find boba on campus! We also hosted a soirée, with fancy food, drinks, and lots of photo ops!

AAWA Fall Kick-Off Soiree

The second aspect of what AAWA does is host dialogue events, which aim to spark discussions about the issues that affect our communities. This semester alone, we’ve hosted an event about Asian-American Allyship (where we discussed what it means to be an ally to others and an active advocate for social change), Asian-American Art (where we discussed the overlaps of Asian-American political activism and art while creating art ourselves), Mental Health (where we talked about what self-care and self-love means while drinking Matcha Latte and doing face masks), and Transnational Adoption (where we learned about how transnational adoption complicates notions of identity, community, immigration, and imperialism). As you may have noticed, a lot of these dialogue events have also created spaces in which it’s comfortable enough to have these often-times heavy discussions. For example, we painted/created art together at the Art event and did facemasks together at the Mental Health event.

The events that AAWA does are not entirely inward facing, either. Many of the cultural organizations collaborate with other student organizations to bring together a larger set of perspectives to these events. For example, AAWA has collaborated with a lot of other Asian organizations on the dialogue event about Asian-American Allyship.

As you start thinking about college, many of you might be worried about leaving home and being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. I want you to remember, though, that there are spaces here where you belong, where you can grow with others, where you can find unconditional affirmation and love. It’s very possible to find a home, a tight-knit community, amidst the incredible diversity that this place has to offer.


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Cayla Lee Class of '21

Hello! I'm Cayla, and I'm a junior living in Pforzheimer. My home is Bellevue, Washington, which is about 15 minutes away from the amazing city of Seattle.

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College student, Cayla