PAACH hosts “AsianTalks” – a series of student-led group therapy talks

The Pan-Asian American Community House is located in the basement of ARCH. Credit: Kylie Cooper

The Pan Asian American Community House hosts a series of student-led talks called “AsianTalks” – group therapy sessions for Penn students.

PAACH hosted five AsianTalks discussion events in the form of group therapy sessions with 20-30 graduate and undergraduate students. Session topics range from love and friendship in college to dealing with academic pressures.

As soon as in-person campus life returned in August 2021, Ryan Afreen, junior and program founder, said she took it upon herself to create her wellness space through PAACH. Afreen worked with PAACH Director Peter Van Do during the fall semester to organize and promote AsianTalks through ARCH’s weekly newsletters and social networks.

Afreen said she hopes AsianTalks can offer students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to discover commonalities they might not have found elsewhere in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.

“We’re not holding back,” Afreen said. “We are as vulnerable as it gets and feel like we have a general, global community of support.”

A virtual PAACH retreat last year inspired Afreen to create AsianTalks. She watched students open up to each other about their shared experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and felt the community would benefit from a cohesive wellness program.

Afreen added that the talk series was also inspired by PAACH’s “#AsianTalks” event in October 2021, when people walking past the ARCH building wrote their reasons for being “#ProudtobeAsian” on whiteboards. outside the building. Students were able to express their pride in the culture, values, traditions and communities that come with claiming an Asian identity.

Afreen said AsianTalks topics are planned around events and issues the organizers believe are relevant to Penn’s Asian American community. Because of this, the events are organized a bit spontaneously, she said, rather than following a set schedule for the semester.

“We’re actively deconstructing ‘Penn Face’ here,” Afreen said, adding that she’s proud that the series provides respite from the competitive environment that Penn students often find themselves in.

Afreen begins each meeting by asking attendees: If there was one thing you could change about Penn, what would it be? To avoid the silence that often follows such open-ended questions, she said she first shares her own thoughts and experiences, then gives participants a space to air their own thoughts.

Ishani Mehta, College Junior and PAACH Fellow, attended the March 2 AsianTalks discussion, which focused on the academic pressures Asian American students face from their families, peers, and community members. She said she was impressed with Afreen’s ability to facilitate discussion without claiming all the space for herself.

“I think a lot of people let things go that they didn’t even know they were holding on to,” Mehta said.

The AsianTalks program operates independently of Penn Counseling Services, but Afreen said she plans to meet with Counseling and Psychology Services therapists in the near future to discuss formalizing AsianTalks under CAPS.

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