When Lam Nguyen was elected to represent both Pacific Islanders and Asians last spring, he was “nervous.”
“Right when I got elected to the position, the first thing I said was, ‘I don’t know Pacific Islanders at all. I don’t know their culture, their way of life, how they interact in college, all those different aspects,'” Nguyen said. “I tried to learn. I asked around.”
It’s a quandary the Asian/Pacific Islander senator has coped with and wanted to change for several years, Nguyen said.
“Since I’m Asian, I tend to focus on Asian events more than Pacific Islander events, but I’m supposed to split my budget evenly between those two,” Nguyen said. “I feel like I’m trying to do twice the work, because I’m trying to represent two distinct cultural groups.”
Prompted by his concern, Nguyen went to work early this semester, gathering the required signatures from 150 Asians and Pacific Islanders to split his senatorial seat. His work was rewarded Monday when the student senate unanimously voted to separate the position into a Pacific Islander and Asian senator. The change will be on the next student election ballot in the spring.
“I was really glad to see (Nguyen) step up and split the constituencies,” said Brady Harris, Davis campus student senator. “It’s a good change, especially for those students that will be affected by this.”
Those students filled the student senate chambers in the Shepherd Union Building Monday to show their support for the change.
“It was great to see that so many students had taken such a strong and serious interest in the issue,” said Justin Neville, president of student senate.
Even after the change, Neville said there is significant diversity in each of the new constituencies with dozens of Pacific Islands and Asian countries.
“It’s difficult to be able to capture all of that and to make sure that those students interests are represented as accurately as possible,” Neville said. “By splitting up the constituencies, that’s more of a possibility.”
The split comes more than 10 years after the two groups were separated on the national census. Nguyen told the senate the census change was one reason to split the senatorial seat.
“I think it should have been a change that should have been made a long time ago,” Nguyen said.
It’s a change that wasn’t made for Weber State University’s latest published inventory of student demographics by ethnicity, which groups Asians and Pacific Islanders. The inventory indicates that, of the 82 percent of students who identified themselves by ethnicity, 1.6 percent or 393 are Asian/Pacific Islander.
“We’re kind of lagging behind in splitting Asian and Pacific Islander and making that distinction here at Weber State,” Harris said.