Student organization encourages Asian American, Pacific Islander conversations, invites further action

Angela Lim, Life & Arts General Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the September 24 flipbook.

As their freshmen classmates hurried to choose from more than 1,100 student organizations, Kelly Wei, Abby Ong and J Hayden realized they would need to create a space for themselves within the bustling campus. Sharing a similar feeling of isolation and sensing a lack of Asian American and Pacific Islander representation, the trio band together to navigate the overwhelming transition to college.

Now in their third year at UT, the group launched (un)Jaded, a new student organization hoping to provide a safe place for fellow AAPI students to initiate tough dialogue and community outreach.

Abby Ong, (un)Jaded’s operations director, said the frequent suppression of AAPI issues, especially those concerning mental health, can create a harmful environment for students on campus. Ong said she became sick from stress often during her freshman year, and when she spoke up about her struggles, her peers dismissed her.

“For every single thing, I was met with resistance,” said Ong, “a health and society junior. “It took me a long time to figure out how to carve (out) a space at UT that felt like I actually deserved to be in.”

Meanwhile, Kelly Wei, strategy director for (un)Jaded, said she felt disappointed in the lack of transparency and availability of resources for the AAPI community. 

“You log onto some webpage (and) it feels impossible to navigate,” said Wei, a marketing and psychology junior Wei. “I want to put a human face and presence behind all of that and have our members feel supported, like they have somewhere to go and get real, reliable answers to whatever needs or struggles that they’re going through.”

(un)Jaded reached out to students by posting educational infographics on social media and tabling beside the Flawn Academic Center. There, they distributed green envelopes and resource cards with hotline numbers.

“There’s not enough people in the AAPI community who feel comfortable reaching out and asking for help, and we really wanted to impart this impression that it’s okay and very valuable to do so,” Wei said.

(un)Jaded’s general meetings will include workshops on mental health and social advocacy, said Hayden, the organization’s program director. Additionally, guest speakers will come to share advice about mindfulness and self-care.

Hayden said they firmly believe every aspect of one’s life relates to their mental health, so the organization aims to start important conversations on racism and other forms of discrimination that occur both inside and outside the AAPI community.

“Just opening up that space for people to come in and learn about these things — and having that open discussion — is in and of itself fighting the stigma,” said Hayden, a human development and family sciences and African and African diaspora studies junior.

The organization plans to hold various service opportunities so members can have a greater impact beyond campus. At its core, (un)Jaded seeks to give AAPI students a sense of belonging and encouragement to raise their voices.

“We want people to come in and find us, feel safe, appropriately challenged, loved and protected,” Wei said. “I feel like that’s one of the best things you can give to an impressionable, young 18-year-old kid coming into a school as large as UT.”