University of California, Berkeley

Most Outstanding VSA of the Year Nomination: University of California, Berkeley

What are the purpose and goal(s) of the VSA, and how has the VSA met or exceeded those goals?

Cal VSA has three pillars: academics, community, and culture. At Berkeley, the Vietnamese community represent 3% of the student population. The organization wants to provide resources that engage the 3% and even more. This year our academic chairs presented Vietnamese representation in two areas: historical context and professional development. Fall semester Cal VSA focused on the historical narrative and honed in on topics that include: Vietnamese Fashion & cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation, historical and visual representation of salt stained art (first Southeast Asian exhibit in Japantown, San Jose), and music. Spring semester academics was approached differently by focusing on professional development. Our spring cabinet officer held resume workshops and provided professional guidance as a graduate student. Additionally, Cal VSA opened a semester-long intern positions to allow students to overshadow cabinet officers. This opportunity is to showcase the responsibilities of each officer and provide hands on experience for future officers. The pillars begin to blend as academics and community overlap with one another through VISION, which is the high school mentorship program. This program is a 4-day, 3-night event that invites high school students to the campus as it aims to help them gain more knowledge and develop leadership skills to be leaders and bring about change in their communities through workshops, activities, and discussion. Our pillar of community does not stop there, as Cal VSA has also built a foundation of Vietnamese community in and out of campus. Those who voice interest in being apart of a family or anh/chi/em program will be matched with those who are most compatible to them. While some opt to be randomly matched, Cal VSA provides the opportunity to find your potential family head or big/little through our speed friending event, which is supplemental to general meetings and semesterly general retreats. Our engagement with other Vietnamese community reaches further into the Northern California region as the continuous maintenance of a healthy relationships with representatives from regional schools. These relationships allow for gatherings and event, such as mixers, that are organized by our Intercollegiate Council Representatives.

Address how the VSA was outstanding in the following areas: recruitment, marketing, outreach to campus community, use of resources (financial, etc.), officer training and event planning.

Cal VSA was able to successfully collaborate with five schools during the 2018-2019 academic year. Furthermore, the organization believed that it should give back to the Vietnamese community afar as well. To commemorate its 40th anniversary, Cal VSA wanted to help the victims of Agent Orange by donating to the nonprofit organization “Blind Children Vietnamese Foundation.” The nonprofit supports visually-impaired children in Vietnam who lost their sight due to bombs and Agent Orange during the war as well as many other reasons, such as deficiency of nutritious food and vitamin A, inappropriate use of medicines, poor hygienic, limited access to eye-care services, premature birth, and accidental injuries. The $500 goal was surpassed to $600 thanks to those who supported the week long bake sale. All proceeds earned were donated to the Blind Children Vietnamese Foundation. The support of the Vietnamese community at Berkeley continues on as many of the students came to fundraisers throughout the academic year, which is used to help fund the culture show. The successes of these fundraisers and money raised for the organization can be thanked to the cooperation of businesses in the area, patrons that came to support the organization at these businesses, cabinet members and volunteers working 9 hour concession on the weekend, donors, alumni, Vietnamese businesses in the Bay Area community, and Daniel Wellington. These funds are put directly to the culture show, which is the highlight of our cultural pillar. For our 40th cultural show, the organization wanted a thought provoking topic. Our scriptwriters, whom are full-time students, tackled the intersectionality within the LGBTQ+ and Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities. For many of the older generations, and even some in the younger generation, LGBTQ+ topics are taboo; however, as an organization, we did not want to fray away from such a topic as the issues within those who identify one or another can greatly impact those individual’s lives. As important as these pillars set the foundation of events and programs, Cal VSA preach that such pillars do not define us, rather, it is how we choose to let it define us.

How did the VSA work together? How did you maximize strengths and overcome weaknesses? How did the group work to establish responsibility and accountability among its members?

Given the schools within the Northern California region, UC Berkeley is fortunate to have a decent amount of Vietnamese students in the population. Cal VSA strength is its numbers. As one of the oldest and biggest cultural organization on the campus, Cal VSA utilizes that power to elevate its expectation within themselves by providing more outlets for individuals to join specialized programs/niches and to present high quality events. This is best seen through our cultural sector. The culture show provides individuals who are more interested in behind the scene or technical work, such as graphic design and audio technician, and it also provides a creative outlet as well that includes: script-writing, hair and makeup design, signing, dancing, and acting. These niches give an opportunity to students with individuals of similar interest or provide a safe environment to learn a new skill. If students would rather take the route of hospitality and generosity, then the path of volunteer and mentorship is a viable option through the VISION high school program. Nonetheless, Cal VSA still has weaknesses within its organization. Although Cal VSA has a relatively high representation of Vietnamese individuals in a college setting, the organization can lack of present in bigger events. Because of the academically driven and professionalism atmosphere within the campus, I believe the organization may find it harder to have Cal VSA representation in regional events. Additionally, most student do not have a car, so as a result, this is another reason why there is less of a presence. With the given knowledge of the student life dynamic, Cal VSA was able to diminish the issue of lack of regional engagement by organizing bi-monthly mixers with Northern Californian schools. Many of those mixers were held at Berkeley and by doing so, Cal VSA was able to increase its relation with the different schools and its attendance at such events. The organization was also able to prevent problems of lack of presence within the inner community by holding family heads accountability.

Provide specific examples of how the student group demonstrated growth and development in the 2018-2019 academic year.

Prior to becoming a family head, the retention chairs made guidelines of minimum events and gatherings that must be had in a month. These guidelines formed a stronger knit community within the organization and the family units. There is also an incentive for anh/chi/em to hang out throughout the semester by rewarding the family line with a prize during the end of the semester banquet. The dynamics within the cabinet officers should also be acknowledged. Beginning of fall semester, 10/14 cabinet members were new to cabinet. As ambitious as all officers may be, there were times of miscommunication. However, with time and experience, the collaborative dynamic of the officers became stronger through group effort work, such as concessions, fundraisers, and general and cabinet meetings. This gained knowledge would transcend into the spring semester as such lessons learned prevented from similar mistakes of miscommunication from occurring. Cal VSA is an organization that helps individuals to gain skill and knowledge to become wise leaders. Every success story has obstacles that must be overcome and its strengths can be greatly seen through its techniques/methods to solve problems. For Cal VSA, its strengths lay in its numbers and its weaknesses may be found in lack of presence, but nonetheless, the issue has better in passing semesters.