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Student Spotlight: Activist Grace Hirschfeld

A junior at Mills, Grace Hirschfeld points to her roots as a San Franciscan and her Chinese and Lithuanian mixed heritage to explain her dedication to activism.

“I’m really passionate about fighting for the Asian American community,” Hirschfeld says.

Hirschfeld has been deeply involved with the Asian Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA) and stepped up to be Publicity Chair this year. In this capacity, she has vitally supported the organization by managing social media and student forum postings, creating presentations and running meetings. 

Growing up close to San Francisco’s Chinatown shaped Hirschfeld’s perspective. She remarked about a disturbing memory that fueled her activism.

“It was this Chinese man who was getting mocked and attacked while trying to pick up cans and they were trying to take his cans away from him,” she said. “And that was really painful for me to see as someone who has grown up treasuring her Asian community.” 

Hirschfeld first encountered activism in high school, when she got involved with Best Buddies, a club advocating for students with disabilities.

“It’s a love of community,” she says is what motivates her advocacy work. “If you can do something, I think you should.”

After choosing Mills for its strong values of social justice and inclusivity, Hirschfeld picked up tennis; joining the team even though she had never played before. When COVID-19 conditions led to the canceling of tennis practice, she found a willing tennis partner in her mom, whom she cites as a source of continual inspiration. 

“I also love to cook and bake,” Hirschfeld says. “I love to try to find Chinese recipes so that I can connect with my culture.” 

Hirschfeld is continually involved in projects in her hometown. One of these is Revive San Francisco Chinatown.

“It bridges generations of youth and elderly because in Chinatown right now, it’s mainly the elderly,” Hirschfeld explains. “It shifted to helping escort and protect the elderly during Covid.” 

At Mills, Hirschfeld helps APISA to provide a space to discuss important issues central to the Asian American experience. Working in tandem with affinity groups on campus, Hirschfeld has helped to organize fun and educational events for the community and increase awareness of issues like xenophobia and racism.

She adds, “We hope to develop a safe and welcoming environment for anyone with different backgrounds and experiences to build community.”

Grace’s work with APISA this year has yielded satisfying results. She appreciated that many of the attendees of APISA’s events were not only Asian-American.

“I think that the biggest thing that we have been able to accomplish is building more solidarity for the Asian American community,” she says. “And raising a lot of money for organizations.”

Pondering what she will be doing in five to ten years, Grace states, “I plan to be involved in activism. It’s very fulfilling for me as an Asian American.”