Wisconsin’s 2018 Student Activist of the Year
A senior at UW-La Crosse has been named student activist of the year by the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.
Yer Xiong, who is majoring in women’s studies and minoring in ethnic and racial studies, will receive the award at the annual faculty and student conference Friday, April 6, at Edgewood College in Madison.
Faculty nominate students for the award presented annually to Wisconsin college or university students who have “made an outstanding contribution to activism related to peace and justice issues.”
Professors Mahruq Khan and Deb Hoskins nominated Xiong, commending her extensive activism in support of the Hmong community on campus, in La Crosse and worldwide. They note that Xiong has worked to improve communication, understanding and respect in the community and with cross-community bridge building.
In their nomination, the professors pointed to Xiong for her enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to peace, social justice and activism.
“She has developed a truly impressive track record of dedication to racial and gender justice,” says Hoskins. “This honor will help her expand her network of contacts to further the work she plans to do next.”
Xiong started moving toward peace and justice activism by the time she reached the fifth grade. As a member of a youth group, Hmong Youth Culture Club formed within the La Crosse Hmong Cultural Community Agency, she worked with the group’s youth advocates to learn what it means to be an indigenous people grounded in relationship to a place that has been colonized. By the time she was in high school, she was asked to serve as an intern and then a youth advocate who helped teach the next group of young Hmong Americans what her predecessors had taught her.
On campus, Xiong serves as a student senator and is co-chair for the student organization HOPE, Hmong Organization Promoting Education. The organization works to educate Hmong students on how to be Hmong, as well as American. She advocated hard for a Hmong studies certificate program that includes language classes.
Xiong is a member of UWL’s Awareness Through Performance (ATP) troupe, an award-winning program that educates the campus community on issues of race, gender, heteronormativity, disabilities and more. The troupe performs skits written by members on their own experiences.
In 2015, she learned of Hmong men who had been racially profiled and wrongfully convicted or killed. Xiong coordinated with Hmong community groups in Wausau, Pepin, Milwaukee, Stevens Point and other cities to raise awareness of gender-based violence committed against Hmong men. She created a climate of solidarity and support for them and their families.
Xiong initiated direct action and organized fellow Wisconsin college students to petition, write letters and call the district attorney’s office, along with appearing at court hearings, supporting family members, and organizing marches and demonstrations to heighten awareness of cases.
Xiong has taken her social justice activism to an international level. She has participated in two conferences. In Chiang Mai Thailand in 2016 she was an ally participant at the Global Hmong Women’s Conference and a co-presenter at the International Hmong Studies Conference.
“The impact of Yer’s work is unquantifiable but real for the young people and the elders she has touched,” says Hoskins. “It will not reach its full fruition for many years, but it is considerable already.”