Organization Spotlight: Rollins Asian Pacific Islander Desi Association (Rollins APIDA)

By Sejal Waghray, MPH’23 in Global Health

Rollins Asian Pacific Islander Desi Association (Rollins APIDA) is a student organization that provides the space for students who identify as Asian, Pacific Islander, and/or Desi to discuss their shared experiences, network with one another, and to socialize through a variety of events and activities. This organization is relatively new to Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH), but has already hosted some of RSPH’s most talked-about cultural events with high attendance by students. Feel free to follow them on Instagram, @rollinsapida, to stay up to date on upcoming events or any other organization information. For more insight into Rollins APIDA, I interviewed one of their co-presidents, Alex Casison, MPH’23 in Global Health.

Can you introduce yourself a bit?
My name is Alexandra Casison, but I go by Alex. My pronouns are she and her. I was born in the Philippines and lived there for about six years before moving to Japan for another six. By the time I was twelve, my family and I moved to San Diego and I’ve been there ever since—until I had to move to Atlanta for graduate school. I am currently studying for my Masters in Public Health in the department of Global Health, with a concentration in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Population Studies. I am also in the Social Determinants of Health certificate program.

Could you provide a brief history of Rollins APIDA?
Rollins APIDA was chartered during Fall 2021 and it was the project of APID identifying second years from the class of 2022. They saw a gap in APID representation specifically at Rollins, and saw that other Community and Belonging organizations were serving the needs of their peers. They then had the idea to charter a Rollins’ specific APIDA student organization, separate from Emory University’s undergraduate APIDA organization. One specific need it fulfills is the lack of representation and community among APID-identifying Rollins students. It also provides a space for APID-identifying students that are not necessarily international students—although they are also welcomed to join and participate. It was designed to be a space where students can learn more about other cultures, for students who identify with more than one race and ethnicity can be more in touch with their culture, and overall share information and resources with the rest of the Rollins community that might not be aware of APID culture and traditions.

What does Rollins APIDA do?
Since Rollins APIDA is relatively new, we have only held four events that are geared to the Rollins student body, not including the Student Engagement Fair during Orientation Week for the 2022 Orientation (Inaugural Meet and Greet, Spring Picnic, Moon Festival, and Meet and Greet for Fall 2022). We have previously collaborated with the Rollins International Student Association (RISA) and have future plans and events in progress with La Alianza Latinx (LAL) and an inter-graduate collaboration with other Emory graduate programs (Law, Business, and Med)

With RISA, we collaborated for the Moon Festival and are in the process of working on a Trivia Night. With LAL, we are collaborating for Dia de los Muertos since the Philippines also celebrates the holiday. For our inter-grad collaboration, we are organizing a graduate level Diwali event.

Our mission is to support the academic, professional, and personal development of Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi students in the field of Public Health.

Why did you decide to join Rollins APIDA?
I decided to join Rollins APIDA because I felt that there has always been a lack of representation for Filipinos in leadership spaces, especially in academia. I also joined because I knew the importance of having Rollins APIDA given the diversity of our student body and I wholeheartedly believed in the organization’s mission and vision. I wanted to be a part of the formative years for a student organization that I believe will be here for the long run.

How has Rollins APIDA enhanced your experience at Rollins?
Rollins APIDA has enhanced my experience at Rollins through finding lifelong friends with my other executive board members. Rollins APIDA has also provided a safe space for me to be unapologetically me, and I have been surrounded by so much support from my executive board and the general body. I vividly remember a first year coming up to me early in the fall semester saying how she thinks it’s so cool that another Filipino is so involved at Rollins and are in leadership positions. It made me really emotional because being half-Filipino, I’ve always felt sort of out of place, but that specific comment brought me back to why I wanted to join Rollins APIDA in the first place—to be the representation I haven’t always seen.

What is the best part of being a part of Rollins APIDA?
Without a doubt, all the food we always have. We’ve had Indian, Thai, Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese—and we always have boba! Food is such a huge part of community in the APID community, so us being able to take that part of our community and culture to Rollins has been extremely meaningful and special to everybody on the exec board. I have also valued and appreciated all of the collaborations with other student organizations like La Alianza Latinx (LAL), Rollins International Student Association, and APID-based organizations from the Law, Medical, and Business schools.

What advice would you have for a first-year student who wants to get involved?
Don’t be afraid of trying something new even if you feel like you might not have the time or the capacity for it. A lot of the really incredible friends I’ve made have been through being involved on campus and getting to know not just my executive board but also other executive board members. Try to go to as many events as possible—especially the ones with free food—because it’s just a nice break from school and work, and it provides you with an opportunity to get to know your peers in a more casual and comfortable setting.

Is there anything else you would want to add or share about Rollins APIDA?
I hope that Rollins APIDA is able to grow and remain strong just like Association of B(ABPHS) or LAL. I believe that we serve such an incredible and diverse student body. I also appreciate how much representation we offer and how this in addition to all the cultural celebrations and activities we host, has personally made my Rollins experience that much better. In the future, I envision that Rollins APIDA will be able to host a lot more events once it has been more established and can collaborate more with APID-based local community organizations.”

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