This summer, Annie Weng wrote 20 handwritten letters to 20 incoming freshmen. The compassion and purposefulness she shows in her actions exemplify the intentionality and warmth that characterize the Asian American Center’s Peer Leader program. As a sophomore peer leader, Annie hopes to assist first-years in navigating the transition into college, whether it is about maintaining connection with their cultures or providing the courage to step out of their comfort zones.
Annie remembers how as a freshman, the Center offered her a “safe haven” where she could be around people who would not judge her. She reflects, “They’re here for me to celebrate everything I’m about and everything I like.” The connections she created with the Asian American Center community assisted her in approaching her questions about her cultural identity, especially in a predominantly white institution. Annie brings to light the distinction between tolerance and celebration of differences, and she beams about what a blessing it is to have a community where she doesn’t have to “justify [her] differences.” She can just be.
Now as a sophomore, she appreciates conversations where she and her group get to exchange their diverse perspectives of what it means to be unapologetically themselves in every aspect of their identities. She welcomes her mentees to share their stories and for the circle to “listen to understand and not just listen to reply.” Annie notes that it is important for individuals to understand where others are coming from, whether it is from a predominantly white or predominantly Asian community and whether it is 70 minutes away or 7,000 miles away. Most importantly, she stresses for her mentees to consider “where to go next” with their identities, in other words how to be more intentional about embracing their identities and not condense their cultures for the convenience of others.
Ultimately, Annie strives to be there for her mentees in any way that she can. She wants her peers to know that they are not alone, and through the one-on-one connections she makes with her group members, she accomplishes just that.