Growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Armin Panjvani was among the very few Asian Americans in her schools. That all changed when she came to UT Austin and found herself surrounded by many different groups of students from the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. She soon became highly involved in campus life, serving as chair of the Asian American Culture (AAC) Committee and as a member of the GraduAsian planning committee.
We sat down with Panjvani, whose family comes from India, to learn more about her experiences on campus and the lifelong friendships she made while planning big events alongside her fellow committee members. We wish her well as she leaves the Forty Acres to embark on her gap year before pursuing a master’s degree in psychology.
Culture shock … “Up until eighth grade, I was the only Asian kid in my school. When I got to high school, I was maybe one of 15. Then I came to UT and all of a sudden, I’m on a campus with a 50,000 population and tons of Asians everywhere I look. There’s an entire organization dedicated to this religious group that I’m a part of, and there’s any kind of cultural group you want to join. The possibilities are really endless.”
Feeling welcome … “When I went to my first AAC meeting, I was greeted by a membership officer who is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. As soon as I walked in, she sat next to me and said, ‘Oh my gosh, hi! What’s your name?’ After the meeting, she introduced me to people and really made sure that every new person was feeling welcome. Throughout the year that was a constant thing, and it really did feel like this big family. That was one of the biggest things for me with AAC, that it felt like a community.”
Enhancing campus culture … “The AAC is one of the 10 committees that make up Campus Events + Entertainment, which is a university-funded event planning organization. It’s run by students, and we plan events for students. The AAC specifically focuses on Asian American cultural events, Asian American headliners, and that sort of thing. We typically have around eight events a year.”
Putting on a show…“Two of our main events are called InspirAsian and CultivAsian. We bring a well-known Asian American speaker or performer to come talk to students. Another one of our most frequented events is Miyazaki Festival , a celebration of the director Hayao Miyazaki and his films—all of the Studio Ghibli films, essentially. We actually got more than double of our expected attendance for this year! We also celebrate Lunar New Year; that’s one of our biggest events of the year. And this year we also had our first South Asian event. It was called “Explore South Asia.”
A time for celebrAsian … “GraduAsian is one of the affinity graduations, which also include Black Grad and Latinx Grad. It’s a separate celebration to commemorate Asian American-identifying and Asian-identifying graduates. It’s not a ceremony, but we do have stoles. We have a photo booth, and food and some cultural performances. You invite your family and friends and get your stole and celebrate your culture while also celebrating your accomplishments.”