ALMA — When Kristina Her came to Alma College four years ago, she didn’t find many students who shared her Asian-American background. Those feelings of isolation were heightened after the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings, in which Asian women were primarily victimized.
So, with support from college faculty and staff, Her did something about it. She founded the college’s Asian Student Union (ASU), which seeks to increase awareness of various Asian cultures both locally and on-campus. With a membership of now more than 10 students, Her said, she feels a deeper sense of community than when she first moved to mid-Michigan.
“A couple of Asian student personally told me I was one of their first Asian friends on campus — that ASU gave them the courage to speak up and say how they felt as an Asian person, and that meant a lot to me,” said Her, a 2022 graduate. “We have a lot of support on campus from people who are not Asian, too. We’ve found there’s a lot of people who are open-minded and interested in learning.”
Among the activities ASU has put on are a celebration of karaoke (which is extremely popular in some Asian countries), a giveaway of instant noodles from several Asian counties and a student-led panel bout discrimination against Asian people and culture. It’s a mix of silly fun and serious introspection, Her said, and to see the positive reaction from the campus community has felt empowering.
“It felt good to mix my interests with the needs here on campus,” said Her, of Warren, who is Hmong. “I felt like I was able to get the resources I needed to start my own groups, and with that, I was able to help the community as a whole.”
Even apart from her advocacy, Her was a seriously involved student during her time at Alma. She co-founded the school’s Fashion Club, focusing specifically on clothes from different world cultures. She was president of the International Club and the Chinese Club, and she was involved in the Campbell Scholars program.
Her chose to major in chemistry and minor in art and design — two tracks that seem to be completely different on the surface, but worked right for her. Her goal is to become an optometrist and open her own art studio; after taking a gap year, she intends to study at the Michigan College of Optometry.
“People from the science department, the art department, and the Diversity and Inclusion Office — Joel Dopke, Jillian Dickson and Julia Dang, respectively — they were the people I could talk to at any time. They would make time for me, even if I just needed to talk. That’s one of the best reasons to go to Alma College, I think.
“I have seen Alma actively strive to make this campus a more welcoming environment for all backgrounds. My very first experience at Alma was rocky, but once I gave Alma a chance, I saw how this campus listens to their students and truly supports us,” Her said. “Alma College does not just teach you how to get a degree, but life skills to do real action that impacts our communities in a positive manner!”