Features, On-Campus Profiles

2023 Aquino Scholarship Winner Heidi Yun Promotes Inclusivity, Advocates for Asian Students

At a school like Boston College, where Asian students make up a small number of the total population, the lack of diversity fosters an environment where silence about bias is all too common, according to Heidi Yun. 

Yun said she perceived this reality when she experienced a racially motivated incident during her sophomore year at BC.

“An Asian American solidarity poster outside my dorm room had been torn down multiple times,” Yun, MCAS ’24, said. “The Office of Institutional Diversity here at BC had immediately recognized it as a bias-motivated incident. … It was a systemic issue. It was a racial issue.”

While the incident made Yun distressed about the issues she faces as a Korean American student, she said she now draws from these experiences in her academic and extracurricular projects. 

Yun connected this bias-motivated incident to material from her courses at BC, which she explained in her application to the Benigno and Corazon Aquino Scholarship.

“Yun wrote about this racist incident, and applied concepts she had learned in a course regarding deviance and social control, to the way that she understood this racist incident,” said Wan Sonya Tang, an assistant professor of Hispanic studies and director of Asian American studies. “She understood the different dynamics, and had concrete suggestions for how to avoid similar situations in the future.”

Yun is the winner of the 2023 Benigno and Corazon Aquino Scholarship, which recognizes a BC junior who has a strong academic record and is actively engaged in Asian American issues and service to the Asian American community on or off campus. Each year, the winner is awarded at least $25,000 to go toward their senior year tuition. 

Reflecting on what made her stand out as a candidate, Yun said her work promoting awareness of Asian culture, advocating for students with disabilities, and working on impact litigation with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) aligned with the mission of the scholarship.

“An Asian American leader is able to use their previously lived experiences and turn that into tangible action,” Yun said. “And I think that all these initiatives and organizations that I’ve been a part of, they’re all ‘feel good’ moments where like, you actually feel you’re making an impact on campus. … I’m doing something for the community, but I’m also learning something while doing it.”

Yun said BC’s Jesuit teachings create an environment where she can better herself—this aspect of BC’s approach to education is what drew her to the University.

“I loved the Catholic-oriented education,” Yun said. “The Jesuit values, being a man and woman for others, and leading an intentional life geared towards being able to serve others in ways that you’ve never been able to before.”

Sandra Kim, Yun’s roommate and MCAS ’24, said that Yun’s strong character is displayed through her work both inside and outside the classroom. 

“As a student, she is incredibly direct in the fact that she sees her education as a privilege,” Kim said. “Which transfers to her as a friend … she is very honest and direct.”

Yun became involved with UGBC, the Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD), and the Korean Student Association (KSA) during her freshman year at BC. 

During her sophomore year, when Yun served as the culture chair for the Korean Student Association (KSA), she led the event planning for KSA’s annual culture show.

“My primary responsibility was spearheading the 22nd annual culture show ‘ROOTS,’” Yun said. “It was named ROOTS because we felt a growing number of second and third generation Asian Americans were becoming more out of tune with their roots and forgetting where their parents and grandparents came from and their culture.”

In her junior year, she served as intersectionality chair for UGBC, where Yun said she bridged the gap between CSD, the AHANA+ Leadership Council, and the Queer Leadership Council.

Yun is committed to questions of inclusivity and diversity, according to Tang. Through her involvement with various organizations, Tang said she promotes equity and accessibility on campus.

“She has been really involved with different student groups and has really committed to the question of equity in all different kinds, from different immigrant groups to combating ableism,” Tang said. 

Yun’s passion for impacting change also translates into her career aspirations. Yun worked as a legal intern with the BC Innocence Program, a program where students work with attorneys representing imprisoned people who argue they were wrongly incarcerated. This past summer, Yun also worked at a Korean American law firm and gained more exposure to litigation law—an area of law she sees herself working in. And when Yun interned for GBLS, she focused on impact litigation, which aims to affect societal change through legal action. 

“I was able to have a lot of one on one time with clients of [GBLS], with some being Asian Americans, it was empowering to communicate and offer them help with things like getting food stamps and making sure that they had the proper health care,” Yun said. “Although I plan on saving law school for a little more down the road. I know I have a lot to contribute.”

Yun’s work at GBLS allowed her to be more involved with the Asian American community off campus. Though Yun is also already very involved with the on-campus Asian American community, she said receiving the scholarship made her take a step back and reconsider how she contributes to advocacy efforts. Yun said she now feels an even greater sense of responsibility to spearhead activism efforts on campus. 

“Everything I said during my interviews and application for the scholarship should be able to be reflected in my actions,” Yun said. “So the involvement that I’ve had thus far makes me feel more encouraged to contribute and further my goals in these areas.”

When selecting this year’s scholarship recipient, Tang said the Aquino Scholarship committee unanimously decided Yun was the winner. 

“That’s pretty amazing, because it almost never happens,” Tang said. “There’s always some kind of debate at the end, and people are voting and presenting reasons for certain candidates. … But this time, we all agreed that she was absolutely a stellar candidate.”

Kim said she cried when she heard that Yun won the scholarship. Yun’s strong commitment to advocacy and motivation to better campus and the community makes her stand out, according to Kim.

“She works harder than anyone,” Kim said. “Even just the way she speaks about the things she’s passionate about. You can tell how motivated she is. Her drive really sets her apart.”

October 12, 2023