Advocating for the Asian Pacific community at Harvard Law School and beyond

Student group works to create community during remote teaching and learning

The Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) has been an active student organization at Harvard Law School for more than 25 years. There are more than 170 current members, and notable Asian and Asian American HLS graduates include Professor Jeannie Suk Gersen ’02; former Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh ’80; former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao ’94; Lucy Koh ’93, the first Korean-American in U.S. history to serve as a federal district court judge; and U.S. District and Circuit Court Judges Theodore D. Chuang ’93, John Z. Lee ’92, and Kenneth K. Lee ’00.

This school year, APALSA members are taking remote classes from around the world, including: Australia, Canada, China, France, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Philippines, South Korea.

Harvard Law Today recently corresponded with the group via email about projects it is working on and how members are creating a sense of community while the law school is online. This is third in the recurring “Life at HLS” series, which focuses on student organizations, journals, and student practice organizations.


Harvard Law Today: Tell us a bit about APALSA and its mission at HLS.

APALSA: The Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) is a political, academic, and social student-run organization. Our mission is to advocate for the Asian Pacific American community at Harvard Law School and beyond. We provide academic resources and support for HLS students, in addition to a social and professional network to connect students and alumni. Our goal is to promote a greater understanding of Asian Pacific American issues and culture at HLS and in the legal field more broadly.

HLT: What are you doing to maintain a sense of community while we’re online?

APALSA: We have built community among our students in creative ways. Our cornerstone program is SibFamilies, where groups of 10-12 students of various grades and backgrounds get to know one another in small virtual group settings, whether it be through movie nights, murder mystery dinners, or boba hangouts. This year, we also launched our first Big/Little program, which pairs 1Ls with upperclassmen for one-on-one mentorship and advice.

We have also hosted several community-wide events, including a Trivia Night and a Dumpling-Making Night. The Dumpling-Making Night was an especially memorable bonding night, as dumplings are a special cultural comfort food for many of us. Every Friday evening, APALSA also hosts a community Game Night as a way for students to unwind and connect.

Screenshot of students showing dumplings they made during virtual event.

Scenes from APALSA’s Dumpling-Making Night

APALSA has also organized several virtual speaker events throughout the semester. We have featured talks with notable Asian American attorneys in the public interest field, including: public defender Manohar Raju; Dale Minami, an attorney who has been involved in significant litigation involving the civil rights of Asian Pacific Americans and other minorities; Connecticut State Attorney William Tong; and Boston City Councilwoman Michelle Wu ’12. We have also had several panels featuring private attorneys from a wide range of practices.

On Election Day, APALSA members volunteered at the polls with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. We helped protect voting rights for all by documenting voter problems and making sure voters with limited English proficiency were not turned away, intimidated, or discriminated against during the voting process.

We’re looking forward to the spring semester and hope to continue supporting our community and fostering connections among our students.

HLT: How will your annual conference look in 2021?

APALSA: Founded in 1995, the National Asian Pacific American Conference on Law and Public Policy is the premier conference on law, policy, and career issues relevant to the Asian Pacific American community. For the event, APALSA invites prominent jurists, public interest advocates, law firm partners, and policymakers to participate in panels and network with law school students from around the country. This year, of course, will be a little different. The APALSA Conference will be held virtually on February 11-13, 2021 (mark your calendars!), with the usual bevy of incredible speakers and networking opportunities. We hope you’ll join us! (Learn more about the APALSA annual conference and the 2020 reenactment of a key U.S. trial that shaped Asian American history).

HLT: How can HLS students get involved with APALSA?

APALSA: The organization is open to all Harvard Law students of every background. Interested students can email apalsa@mail.law.harvard.edu to stay up-to-date on events and opportunities. You can also follow us on Instagram.

HLT: Anything else you’d like to add?

APALSA: This year, we have seen the many unjust and unequal ways in which various communities have been impacted. APALSA will continue to fight to address social and systemic issues affecting all people of color.