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  University of Florida- Student Activism

Gainesville was, fortunately, out of hurricanes’ reach during the recent disasters, but there is an ongoing storm of student activism on the University of Florida campus there, America’s third largest public university, and I’m truly proud that the young movers and shakers have allowed me to take a small role in the great work they’re doing!
With 48,000 students, the UF demographics include 14% Hispanic American, 7% Asian American and 7% African American. There is currently a certificate offered in Asian American studies, but no new permanent classes since the certification was added to the curriculum. Several generations of students have been lobbying for an Asian Pacific American Institute at UF, and an APA director.

Meanwhile, to encourage extracurricular participation in the various programs offered at UF, the Asian American Student Union (AASU) invited me to give the keynote speech at its annual welcoming assembly on Thursday, September 1, 2005. The assembly theme: “A Night at the Movies”; my topic as requested: “The Life of An Asian American Activist”; our goal: to inspire UF students to take active roles in the politics and social/cultural dynamics which impact their lives.

Headed by AASU president Sandy Chiu and event chair Kir-Sheng Chen, the evening assembly dazzled me with the energy and talent of the many Asian-American fraternities, sororities and special interest groups on the UF campus, including Kappa Phi Lambda, Health Educated Asian Leaders, Korean Undergraduate Students Association, Chinese American Student Association, Vietnamese Student Organization, Pi Delta Psi, and the Filipino Student Association.
 With a packed house of enthusiastic and attentive men and women rocking the University Memorial Auditorium from 6:30 – 8 pm, over 100 students and faculty were unable to get seats. Then, following the energy-charged event, throngs of students mingled, tabled and signed on with the Greek group and/or special interest orgs of their choice. Even a slight drizzle couldn’t dampen the campus spirit that night, and – from my POV – it was even more impossible to sleep for the excitement!
 Congratulations to Sandy and Kir-Sheng, and their fellow leaders who toiled mightily to pull off such a major and successful assembly: Jennifer Aldeguer, Annie Ly, Kshama Shah, Leah Delumpa, Annie Ly, Peter Ma, Andrea Ranada, Michael Wong, Dan Doromal, Alex Lavigne, Amanda Morvai, Lanh Nguyen, Dr. Mary Kay Schneider (faculty advisor), and Natalia Leal (graduate advisor).
 Talk about an active pack of student activists -- before I was even on the plane back to L.A., I was instructed by Sandy to start thinking about returning to the home of the Alligators for an event focusing on human rights.
 So it was back to Gainesville in November for Asian American Awareness Month at UF, where “Kaleidoscope 2005” presented a lineup of Asian American musicians, scholars, poets, authors, activists and leaders to the UF student body. Again, Sandy Chiu and her cadre of student activists organized and publicized, clocking multiple hours of work to produce a series of important programs for the UF populace. (I happen to know that Sandy also manages to maintain good grades, but I must remember to ask about her major one day. That and when she finds time to actually study!)
 On Thursday, November 16, I was privileged to host a screening of Warner Bros.’ “The Killing Fields,” starring Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor. AASU invited me back for this Kaleidoscope 2005 event as Executive Director of The Dr. Haing S. Ngor Foundation, to conduct a pre-screening seminar on the life, legacy and human rights work of the Oscar-winning actor. Because of student interest, we scheduled a last-minute, second presentation at 10:30 that night.
 “The Killing Fields” was actually shown on several evenings at UF during the week, sponsored by Human Rights Awareness on Campus, whose president, Nikolas Wolfe, had his colleagues selling copies of Dr. Ngor’s acclaimed autobiography (“Survival in the Killing Fields”) and crusading for signatures on a petition to encourage the U.S. Senate to pass the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Wolfe’s passion to prevent genocide in Darfur astounded me, as did his extensive knowledge and awareness of genocidal acts throughout world history.
 The UF student’s efforts paid off: on November 18, S.1462 was indeed passed unanimously by the Senate, obligating the U.S. “to provide assistance…to reinforce the deployment and operations of an expanded African Union Mission in Sudan with the mandate, size strength and capacity to protect civilians and humanitarian operations and dissuade and deter air attacks directed against civilians and humanitarian workers.”
 It is a genuine honor to commend student activists Sandy Chiu, Nikolas Wolfe and their supportive colleagues on the UF campus. Go Alligators!
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