A Talk with Stephanie Lee: Student Body Vice President Candidate

Stephanie Lee is a third-year International Affairs major with a long list of community involvement that is sure to impress. At the root of it all, though, is advocacy. Through her work in leadership positions, her guiding mantra is to empower others. She is currently a candidate for Student Body Vice President, so Her Campus took the opportunity to talk to her and get to know the woman looking to change the world with her kindness, intelligence and strength.

Her Campus (HC): Hi, Stephanie! Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Stephanie Lee (SL): So, I guess I’ll start from the beginning. The very beginning! My parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea, so I was born in the States but I lived in Korea for the first seven years of my life. Talk about cultural differences because I’m in this new country, my first language was Korean, I didn’t know a lick of English. We came back to the states and my dad really loves to live in rural like areas so we moved around every couple of years. So, growing up it was really difficult for me to navigate my Asian American identity. Coming into Florida State, I had no desire to get involved with the Asian American Student Union. I built up this mantra that it’s them versus me and I’m not a part of them. But eventually, I had a non-Asian friend convince me that I need to go to a meeting, so I went and literally from the first step into that organization I’ve never felt more welcome by a community of people. It was there that I found people that were proud of who they were but also empathized with me and struggled with “I’m not good enough to be Asian American" or "I’m not Asian enough to be Asian American.” Finding people who were willing to talk to me and advocate for me was really transformative.

HC: That’s such an incredible, formative experience. What was that transformation like for you?

SL: I jumped right in and I joined e-board as Director! I think for the first few years I thought, “Oh, cool, I’m on the e-board and leading” but this year something really shifted. It became “I’m leading, but leading is my service to people” and so getting to meet other people outside of Asian American Student Union, hearing their stories and being at a place where I’m trying to be empathetic for them and how can I advocate for their marginalized community. How can I advocate for you with having experiences as a minority myself but also my privileges of being a citizen and my socioeconomic class? It shifted my vision of who I was as a leader into one of just complete service to others and that’s just what I want to do even with Amplify. I think SGA really builds this idea that as leaders that we are your voice, but I don’t think we’re at a place with our university that we have to speak for others. I think it’s about passing the microphone and if people have something to say then amplify their voices. I really didn’t envision myself being in any kind of positional leadership but that’s what really inspired me and motivated me to be in this place.

HC: And now look at you. You’re here as a Student Body Vice President candidate. What does that mean for you?

SL: Something that really clicked for me was hearing that there’s never been an Asian American Student Body Vice President. I felt shook! It was literally the perpetuated model minority myth that Asian American’s aren’t perceived well in leadership positions. If anything, for me, even if this election doesn’t go the way I want it to, I hope that we are able to pave the way for the Asian American community. Someone can see me and go on to achieve even greater success and do more than I did. That’s my responsibility in my position that I’m in right now.

HC: That is already so much. Does what you're studying tie into this kind of extra-curricular activism?

SL: I’m a third-year studying International Affairs, but I’m actually on a pre-Med track. I want to become a medical missionary post-college so I’m applying to med school and taking the MCAT right now. It’s quite the journey! I want to work specifically with global policies at the intersection of advocacy and the solution to health disparities in rural countries. I guess it all goes back to how I can advocate for a community to get long-term, sustainable changes in healthcare; a lot of that comes from education with school systems or community workshops so people can change their lifestyle to increase overall wellness. I’m also in Service Scholars currently working with doctors in the area to increase wellness. For the Tallahassee community, there’s a huge blood pressure issue, so we’re combating that with pop up clinics and just educating people about healthier habits. 

HC: But that’s not all is it? I feel like you have some other irons in the fire.

SL: Well, actually, prior to that I was a community ambassador for the Center for Leadership and Social Change. That’s where you serve as a liaison between the resources of the university and a nonprofit organization in the community. It’s been the coolest experience I’ve had as an undergrad. It was really rewarding because I worked with the Children’s Home Society. I have three brothers and two of them are adopted, so getting to work with foster care students at that level was close to home. Seeing the effects of people who went through the foster care system not be able to function in the real world because of the instability growing up, but then us as college students being able to make a difference in their lives by tutoring and mentoring was super cool. The core of my identity is actually my faith. I’m also involved with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and I lead a small group with two other individuals. That’s been the ultimate motivating force; just a calling from my faith to serve people and to love people unconditionally.

HC: Oh, okay, so you do everything. Got it. So, tell me this: in all these leadership roles, do you find it difficult to be a woman in a powerful position? There are a lot of glass ceilings for women, especially in the political sphere. Do you find that with the intersectionality of being both a woman and Asian American has affected the way you are able to function in all these leadership positions?

SL: Being a woman on top of being Asian American, there are other stigmas. People often time view Asian American women as subservient, submissive and there to do the hard work. Being at a place where I have an opportunity to use my voice, I feel like sometimes it gets pushed aside to hear other dominant male voices. It’s not always a male versus female, but in a lot of the circles I’ve navigated, I’ve had to work a lot harder to get my input out there or even get people to pay attention to what I’m saying. I do think the cultural layer on top of that makes it more difficult. That’s where it comes from for me — understanding the value of my voice and not being afraid to use it. Realizing I’m an empowered woman who has something to say, so it’s important that I’m not afraid to say it. I’m definitely not the most outspoken person but I think this experience has been the development of me learning my voice is important too and now that I realize that my voice is important how can I empower other women to see their voice is too.

HC: Stephanie, you are an enigma. I am so impressed by you. Are there any words of wisdom you would like to leave the readers with?

SL: Find your passion and just go in 100%. I think a lot of people get lost in doing something to do it, but really find one area that you’re passionate about and give your all to it. FSU is a beautiful place with so many opportunities to get involved. You won’t run short with things to do. It’s just finding what you want to do and have that passion for. Don’t be afraid and be bold in finding who you are.

All images courtesy of Stephanie Lee.