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Variations of 
Very Asian+

A Group Relations Conference

on Asian American Authority and Power

Coming Early 2025

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Shedding Light on the Title

At the start of 2022, news anchor Michelle Li from KSDK in St. Louis noted on air that she celebrates New Years Day by eating dumplings, as many Koreans do. Michelle Li is a transracial adoptee and has been living in the U.S. since the age of six months. An offended caller responded that Li was being “very Asian” and that she should keep her Korean to herself. Li then tweeted a video of herself listening to the phone call, and by the next morning, her video went viral and the #VeryAsian movement began, which became the inspiration for the title of this conference.

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Director's Note

“Hey! Where are you from?” The question caught me off guard, did I know this stranger? I answered that I am from California which is where I grew up. He continued on, “But, no where are you really from? Like, where are you parents from?” It dawned on me that here was this beautiful BIPOC man asking about my Asian heritage. I responded politely (as I’ve been taught) that my parents are from the Philippines and Taiwan, and that they’re Chinese. His parting comment, “Oh I thought for sure you were Japanese.” 

Let’s unfold all the layers of fabric that are represented by Asian, Asian-American, AAPI, or in brief, “Asian and/in America/n”. Asian countries span a geographic region from the Pacific to the Suez Canal, intersecting with countries on two other continents, and including roughly 50 countries, with many historic rivalries and tensions between countries. The term Asian-American is an umbrella term that encompasses all of these ethnic groups, a term that has changed more than once over time with the most recent iteration being AA&NHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, see 2021 Presidential Executive Order). The experiences  under the AA&NHPI umbrella are infinitely diverse and varied.      

While each person has a story that is different, representing different generational traumas and different experiences, there are things that bring us together. My connection to my culture is through food. Others may be through family and tradition, religion, creative outlets, and so on. In the US, some Asians are not even thought of as Asian - called Middle Eastern or Indian. Some  of us have multi-cultural backgrounds. The shiny “model minority” has a misleading picture of Asian Americans as uniformly successful, hardworking, and quietly compliant. While this stereotype might seem positive on the surface, it has deeply damaging consequences and creates barriers to authentic leadership for individuals within the community. And yet, Asian Americans themselves may also participate in and perpetuate internalized racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and other “isms.” 

Within this complexity, what does it mean to be of Asian descent and in America? How do Asian Americans take up authority and powerful positions individually and collectively? How is this authority worked with and experienced, by others of Asian descent, by different generations, and by others of non-Asian descent? 



Variations of Very Asian+: A Group Relations Conference on Asian American Authority and Power is an opportunity to focus on the complex experience of the ‘Asian and/in America/n’ experience. This conference is a space and place for those who seek to understand the realities of Asian American lives in the organizations and social systems in which we live in the Americas. This conference offers a unique opportunity to work with an all Asian-identified staff who have  cultural intersections in the Americas. The staff also intersect with different class, cultural, gender and sexual identities. We are the variations of #VeryAsian.  Participating members of the conference can represent any community and will reflect a range of intersectionality and diversity. 

While this is an experiential event where you learn what you learn, imagine an environment that intends to expose unconscious biases. Could that be the opening to explore the projections that create the "bamboo ceiling" that hinder the advancement of Asian American leaders? How are concepts such as role, boundary and task understood with an experience of Asian American authority and power? 

We invite you to JOIN US and look forward to exploring with you Variations of Very Asian+: Asian American Authority & Power Group Relations Conference, online, May 15-18.

Cathy Chen, Director

Group Relations Conference Methodology

This conference is based on the Tavistock tradition of group relations work. We will explore issues related to Asian American lives in diverse group and organizational contexts while also exploring themes central to group relations — such as conscious and unconscious dynamics that affect group functioning, including boundary formation and management, authority relations, overt and covert tasks, formal and informal roles, group defense mechanisms, intergroup dynamics, organizational processes, and the effects of local and global contexts.


Learning here is not from presentations given by experts – but instead through a heightened focus on experience. Experiential learning is both painful and playful, but also, potentially deeply transformative.


We co-create a temporary organization where the task is to learn about hidden and not-so-hidden authority dynamics that impact the organizational culture that develops and the way people take up authority. In the conference, we make use of our individual and collective experiences to understand what is happening, and then perhaps develop ideas to test how we can be more effective.  By focusing on the conscious and unconscious processes that impact groups and influence leadership styles, we learn to see and hear what is underneath the surface and how different parts of the system are connected without us realizing it.


The opportunity offered is to grapple with the deep ways we influence each other and to develop new narratives that enable us to be more effective and more able to explore, contain, and enjoy our experiences of what it is to be human today.

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Primary Task / Purpose

The primary task of this conference is to study the conscious and unconscious dynamics of power and authority in relation to Asian American authority as we take up roles within the conference and experience these dynamics through interpersonal, intergroup, and institutional relations that develop during this event.

The aim of the conference is to provide opportunities to learn through experience about the rational and irrational ways that organizations and groups function in an online space, and the impact group processes and technologies have on the exercise of authority particularly as it relates to the experience of Asian American authority.

The purpose of the conference is to build capacity to improve leadership and organizational effectiveness and to develop a spirit of inquiry into each of our lived experiences of authority in order to build a better world.

Training Track

We will offer a training group for people who have had previous experience as members in two or more group relations conferences (GRC) and are interested in further exploring how to use group relations concepts, either in taking up roles in GRCs or within your work within groups and organizations. This will include readings, group discussions, and practice taking up consultant roles in Small Study Groups, Large Study Groups, and Review and Application Groups.

Primary Task/Purpose

Conference Events

The conference is organized as a series of events that provide opportunities to learn through experience in a variety of social contexts in online spaces. Each event offers a different view from which one experiences and perceives oneself and others, which may change over time. Participants develop different capacities as they adjust to the distinct dynamics of each event and explore the reality of their situation in the here-and-now. The events will begin and end promptly at the times designated. A final schedule will be provided at registration.

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Opening and Closing Plenaries

These sessions open and close the conference, providing an opportunity for members and staff to express and explore their thoughts and feelings on crossing the boundary into the online conference space during the opening plenary (when the organization begins), and the experience of closing the boundaries of the conference space during the closing plenary (when the organization ends).

Here and Now Small Study Groups and Large Study Groups

Here-and-Now events use a “group-as-a-whole” context and focus on the relationships and relatedness that develop in the moment within the group.


Small Study Groups consist of 12 or fewer members with one or two staff as consultants and provide an opportunity to experience and learn about dynamics in intimate groups similar to teams and committees.


Large Study Groups include all members and a team of 3 or more consultants and provide an opportunity to study the dynamics that arise in larger groups where it is more difficult to know or see every member as an individual and where myths and assumptions about each other and about what is happening can arise quickly and powerfully to impact emotions, thoughts and behavior.


The TASK of the Small and Large Study Groups is to develop the skill of being in the here and now (focusing on experience in the “room”) while also developing an attunement to the conscious and unconscious group dynamics as they arise in the online space. The AIM of Small and Large Study Groups is to engage the primary task of the conference-as-a-whole which is to study the conscious and unconscious exercise of authority. The PURPOSE is to provide an opportunity to learn and build capacity to improve leadership.

Intersecting Systems Event

In the Intersecting Systems Event (ISE), members have an opportunity to form their own groups and determine their own group task. The ISE takes place during several sessions and provides an opportunity to study the systemic and political forces that arise as different groups form and interact with each other. This event opens and closes with plenaries to cross the border into and out of the ISE system. 

The primary TASK of the Intersecting Systems Event is to explore Asian American authority and intersectionality within the conference-as-a-whole, as well as the more hidden relatedness between and among groups in the conference system, and within the surrounding context. The AIM of the Intersection System Event is to better understand the relatedness of intersecting systems. The PURPOSE is to build capacity to improve leadership within intersecting systems.

Silent Event / Social Sensing Matrix

All conference participants, members, and staff participate in these events. The TASK of these events is to explore the state of the conference system through silence, through creative expression, through the body and through dreams and associations. The AIM of these events is to access conscious and unconscious dynamics of the whole system through a different means and form of expression. The PURPOSE is to build capacity to improve leadership by accessing the unconscious through different modalities.

Review and Application Groups

The TASK of these groups is to provide members the opportunity to reflect (in the there-and-then) on the conference roles they have taken up and their experiences in conference events, and to begin to apply the learning to life outside the conference.

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