Carven Li: Bringing Personal Interests to Academics and Involvement

Carven Li

Fourth-year Sociology student Carven Li wears many hats. From President of the Sociology Students’ Association to Advocacy Coordinator for the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), Li is a contributing force behind four student associations at UBC.

Given his string of titles, one may assume Li has a long history of involvement with campus events. Li, however, has a different story.

“I was the most apathetic student for my first year, and probably for my second year too,” he says. “As a commuter student, I didn’t feel like I had time to be involved on campus. I had family commitments in Richmond.”

While sitting out campus involvement as a junior student, Li focused on academics and developed a personal connection to his studies.

“Sociology was really eye-opening for my own experiences,” says Li. “I learned that I am very much shaped by the processes of socialization, and how my own identity as a first-generation Canadian is constructed, every day, by different institutions or people. And I found the research component very empowering, because I learned to word my own experiences.”

From there, Li decided to re-consider opportunities to engage with the campus community. Feeling pressure to identify a post-graduation route, he sought out volunteer positions that aligned with his interest in education and intercultural experiences.

“I took a couple terms of lighter course load and started becoming involved with the AUS [as Advocacy Coordinator and Wellness Coordinator],” he says. “And learning about how our student government works made me realize that students are not passive subjects of education. We have student senators and student governors who bring on curricular and institutional change at school.”

Li’s experience with the AUS sparked an interest in student affairs, which prompted him to slot more campus activities into his life. Uncovering the roots of his passion in Sociology became essential to managing his many roles.

“I tailor my academic interests to my personal interests, and I tailor my extra-curricular interests to my personal interests,” says Li. “So it’s much less of a compounding experience, because many of the things I’ve chosen to do are related to what I originally do.”

The same mentality guides Li’s efforts today: his latest undertaking is volunteering with Our City of Colours, an independent organization conceived during the March 2011 Health Initiative for Men (HIM) youth conference. As the organization’s UBC representative, Li is helping run a poster campaign featuring minority groups from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community in Metro-Vancouver.

“When I first saw the posters, I knew it was something I wanted to get involved in,” says Li. “It was very much calling to the kind of isolation I felt myself as a queer person who is a person of colour – the identity that held me back from getting involved in school at the beginning.

“Our City of Colours promotes dialogues of non-normative sexualities in the various cultural and linguistic communities of Metro Vancouver. I joined Our City of Colours because I find that the representation of people of colour lacking or tokenizing along Davie Street. This group can bring awareness of people who still identified with their ethnic community, but also identified as queer. And I feel as though bringing these concepts to the UBC campus will spark a lot of discussion that hadn’t been happening before.”

For Li, supporting Our City of Colours’ development has also allowed him to apply the skills he gained through academic and campus involvement. He attests that taking courses in Critical Studies in Sexuality at UBC strengthened his personal awareness, and that working with the AUS enhanced his public speaking and leadership skills. Bolstered by these experiences, Li approached the cultural diversity services coordinator at the City of Richmond for assistance in the poster campaign. The negotiations have led to the permanent placement of Our City of Colours posters in public facilities around Richmond. Our City of Colours’ next steps currently include registration as an official non-profit.

To fellow Arts students still sitting on the sidelines of campus involvement, Li has a message.

“Look at everything you’re paying for; it’s expensive. So you better know how people are spending the money you pay and you need to hold your education accountable,” he says. “As an Arts student, working with the AUS is, I think, the greatest way of student involvement. Knowing the kind of power that students can have for good really inspired me to get more involved with each student organization. And it also gave me a strong direction as to what I want to do after I graduate. I have a pretty clear vision now of where I want to go.”

Photo courtesy of Carven Li.

Written by Melissa Huang
Article Published June 11, 2012