Dissecting Tradition: A Look at the ECAASU Conference at Cornell over the last 40 years


Tradition -- as anyone who has ever had the reason, “I don’t know, it’s just always been done this way,” thrown in their face will tell you -- is not always held in such high regard.

For some, it’s seen as a hindrance to innovation and growth. In many tangible ways it can be, especially in community organizing at a collegiate level. In other roles outside of ECAASU, I have seen others try to keep up with tentpole events, at sacrifice to campaign promises and ideas that frankly were more relevant and exciting than these parties started so long ago, the people who had even conceived the idea were old enough to be our grandparents.

But the fear that every student body leader knows well is having your executive term been seen as a failure. And for many, breaking away from these events, basically synonymous with the club that hosted them, was a surefire way of having that happen.  

When we find ourselves caught in traditions motivated by fear and habit, it is imperative we take a step back. It is imperative we ask whether or not a certain tradition truly matters anymore. Whether or not this act or these beliefs are even relevant to the people and community we serve.   

So naturally when the precedent is set (over the course of 40 years) to host ECAASU conference at Cornell every decade, it’s hard not to ask why? Why do you keep it up? Why does it matter to keep it going now?

Excerpt referencing the then ‘ECASU’ Conference 1988 in the book,  New Voices: Student Activism in the 80s and 90s

Excerpt referencing the then ‘ECASU’ Conference 1988 in the book, New Voices: Student Activism in the 80s and 90s

For the 2018 students at Cornell, it was never the pressure of precedence that brought back conference.

To explain, it’s best to direct you to this year’s theme for ECAASU Conference 2018.

In the bid, Cornell 2018 Conference organizers think of history in a linear sense – one action leads directly to the next, instilling positive change along a straight trajectory. And while society may improve, Asian Americans continue to face xenophobia and other forms of exclusion and discrimination on a day to day basis -- as they have for the past 150 years of American history.

“The decades-old stereotype of the model minority myth not only negatively impacts the mental health of many young Asian Americans but is also leveraged against less privileged groups of the API community and against other People of Color,” organizers explained in the bid. “Perhaps more telling - and more disturbing - is the fact that the terrifying promise of a full-scale anti-Muslim immigration policy, amongst a slew of reprehensible ideologies, won the most recent election.”

On a more local level the organizers highlighted the necessity to have Conference hosted at Cornell due to cuts on funding, resources, and faculty tenure tracks for their Asian American Studies program -- once a bastion of East Coast Asian American Studies.

This is clearly no force of habit, or saving face.

Tackling multi-issues and advocating against direct policies that unjustly treated Asian Americans and other POCs in 1988. Discovering self-identity by exploring the spectrum of subcultures classified within the umbrella of Asian American culture in 1998. Pushing forward in 2008 the importance of the Asian American vote.

The focuses have varied over the years. Perhaps intentionally, this year’s conference aims to touch on all of these points in an effort to rise above America’s largest insurgence of discrimination in years. But the tradition of building a space to host these discussions has not.

And in this fact is where you find the reason Conference continues not just at Cornell, but across the east coast. This tradition of hosting the ECAASU Conference is rooted in the scarcity of pre-existing spaces to discover, evaluate, celebrate, and advocate for Asian American culture.

And without a doubt in my mind, this tradition will continue in another 10 years at Cornell or even another 41 years across the ECAASU network, until these spaces are built into our homes, our schools, and our society.


Learn more about the 2018 ECAASU Conference by visiting our website!