Continue Engaging: Reflections from Listen to the Silence 2013

by Van Anh Tran, ‘13 + Healy Ko, ‘13

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On February 2, 2013,  Stanford’s Asian American Students’ Association (AASA) held its 17th annual Listen to the Silence (LTS) conference, an Asian American issues conference that aims to empower students and community members to take action towards achieving social change. This year’s theme, “Click, Connect, Engage: From Social Media to Social Justice,” focused on the rise of social media as a force for achieving change within our communities.

This year’s conference was the largest Listen to the Silence in Stanford history with over 600 registrants, 22 workshops, 2 keynote speakers, and a high-profile Asian American artist. Through the workshops, LTS provided a space for students to learn about important issues affecting their community — from Asian American feminism to ethnic biases in public radio. Helen Zia, a prominent Asian American activist, journalist, and feminist delivered a powerful speech on the impact of media activism during the Vincent Chin case while Phil Yu (aka Angry Asian Man) closed the conference with a speech about his influential blog and how it came to be. The conference culminated in an exciting concert that included YouTube artist, Joseph Vincent, as headliner, and Stanford dancers, Taiko drummers, a singer from Talisman, and a world-renowned magician.

Overall, LTS 2013 was one of our most successful to date, and the LTS staff felt this not only through the number of people who attended or the resources that we were able to provide, but through the immense energy that pulsed through the conference during the day. While it has now been a few weeks since LTS, our hope is that all of the participants were able to take away something tangible and share it with their communities.

One of the lessons that we, as organizers, were able to take away from the conference, however, was that the network within our community and beyond is an incredibly powerful resource and more than ever, we saw how powerful we can be when we come together.

Several days before the conference began, Pulitzer Prize winner and Hearst Visiting Professional at Stanford University, Joel Brinkley, wrote an offensive article which suggested that the people of Vietnam had consumed almost all animal life in their country — both wild and domestic — and that their “aggressive” tendencies were linked to eating meat. Within hours of the article’s publication by the Tribune Media Services, there was an uproar by the members from the Asian American community and beyond. The article’s notoriety quickly spread through social media sites, emails, and word of mouth and within a few hours, communities came together to address the issue. Through petitions, op-eds, conversations, and more, we were able to not only raise awareness about the troubling nature of the article and spark a dialogue about ethnocentrism, but we created a situation that was difficult to ignore for our communities, various media outlets, including the Tribune Media Services, Stanford University and affiliates, the director of Brinkley’s department, and Dr. Brinkley, himself.

As Asian Americans, we are the most wired demographic in the United States, and it behooves us to take advantage of this tangible and powerful platform to work towards affecting change in our communities, whether it be by blogging about relevant issues and social ills, by creating online petitions to right particular wrongs, or by creating videos or artwork to spread the word to friends, families, and strangers about a particular problem. The flexibility of this platform allows our community to achieve change in ways that could not have been done 20 or 30 years ago. With social media readily available at our fingertips, remember to not only click and connect, but most importantly, engage.


Van Anh Tran is a senior majoring in Public History/Public Service.  After working with inspiring community organizations in the Bay and LA, Van Anh has developed a passion for community building and organizing within the many communities at Stanford and beyond. Healy Ko is a senior from Philadelphia, double majoring in History and Asian American Studies. Since coming to Stanford, she has been committed to public service and student activism on issues related to immigration and labor.

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