The events of the past year — the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, the COVID-19 pandemic and a rise in anti-Asian sentiment — were a wake-up call for many to re-evaluate what they could do to better promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their communities. The Fermilab Asian/Pacific Association, or FAPA, was no exception.
“I started to reflect and educate myself about how we could do much more than what we had in the past,” said Yun He, an engineer in Fermilab’s Target Systems department and one of FAPA’s co-leaders. She and co-leaders Yi Xie and Genfa Wu realized that FAPA could do more to build connections between its members, encourage cross-cultural communication and promote an inclusive workplace.
Though FAPA formally started in 2018, its roots lie in the Chinese Chat and Welcome group Norman Ho moderated for years before. FAPA is Fermilab’s resource group for Asian and Pacific Islander employees, who make up the largest minority group at Fermilab, and allies. After a period of relative inactivity, the group set out to “re-energize” in 2021.
The group’s leadership has undergone several changes in recent months. One of the original co-leaders, Bo Jayatilaka, stepped down from his official leadership role in March, though he remains an active group member. Wu, a scientist in Fermilab’s Applied Physics and Superconducting Technology Division, stepped in as a new co-leader. Amber Kenney, Fermilab’s chief safety officer, became FAPA’s new executive sponsor.
FAPA’s primary goal is to provide a sense of community for its members. The pandemic has left many people feeling isolated, especially those who moved to the United States from other countries and have not seen their families for a long time, says Xie, a physicist in APS-TD who has been part of FAPA’s leadership team since 2019. Having a supportive community can go a long way toward helping people stay mentally healthy.
The group is also tackling social issues, such as speaking out against anti-Asian violence and racism, as an unfortunate necessity. “We’re just a lab resource group, but current events have put us in the spotlight,” said Xie.
FAPA has shared resources for bystander intervention and psychological safety training to equip people to combat racism and create a safe, inclusive work environment where everyone can feel like their voice is heard and valued.
As part of making sure people’s voices are heard at the lab, Kenney helped organize a Q&A with Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer at FAPA’s April 30 meeting. Wu compiled questions from the FAPA community for Lockyer on topics including the return to in-person work, career development for Asian and Pacific Islander employees, speaking out against anti-Asian violence and navigating the “technology cold war” between the United States and China.
“Nigel’s responses were very informative, accommodating and supportive,” Wu said. In particular, he said Lockyer and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Sandra Charles were supportive of commissioning a study to investigate barriers to equitable career development for Asian American and Pacific Islanders at Fermilab.
For Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month, FAPA rolled out a slate of virtual events. Meredith Lee organized social events, including cultural presentations and a “Jeopardy”-style quiz. FAPA also partnered with Fermilab’s EDI office to offer a workshop from Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics.
The group’s page includes a number of helpful resources for members such as psychological safety and mental health education, information about anti-Asian violence including a seminar from Stanford University and links for donation to COVID relief in India and Nepal.
FAPA currently has almost 200 people on its email list; of that number, about a third are regular, active participants. Lee, Arun Saini, Cindy Joe, Shaorui Li and Yu-Dai Tsai have unofficial leadership roles, planning and hosting events with the leadership team. The group hopes to see more growth as they work on revitalizing and planning more activities. Xie is actively trying to encourage more young people to get involved.
Many of the most active members are of East Asian descent, though Wu would like to see employees from as many Asian and Pacific Islander cultures as possible play a role in shaping FAPA. “The FAPA community is very diverse,” he said. “I want to encourage people from many different countries of origin to be active.”
FAPA’s activities are open to the entire Fermilab community; anyone is welcome to subscribe to the group’s listserv to receive email updates. The leadership team hopes that more people will take the opportunity to engage in cross-cultural communication — between different Asian and Pacific Islander cultures but also between Asians and non-Asians at the lab.
“I hope our little organization will serve as a kind of educational forum between us and the international particle physics community,” said Xie.
FAPA team members