The Culture Crusader

Recent alumnus Edward Lee is a leader in the Asian Pacific American community at Pepperdine and beyond.

Just five years ago, School of Law alumnus Edward Lee (JD ’13) was a public health graduate student at UCLA, hoping to enter the medical field after watching his mother struggle with an illness in his youth. “I wanted to be a doctor,” says Lee. “That’s what I saw as a means to help people.”

After graduating with a master of public health in epidemiology in 2009, Lee sought to harness his analytical knowledge and background in science in a way that would help him seek justice. “I wanted to find a way to represent underprivileged groups, especially ethnic minorities, and give voices to those who might not have many opportunities to express themselves.”

Lee applied to law school with plans to shift gears and come to people’s aid in a different way than he had once imagined. At Pepperdine he found that he could do that two ways: the first, as a student preparing for a career in intellectual property, focusing on drug patent laws and the incentives that are created by policy; the second, as a leader on campus promoting unity within the Asian Pacific American (APA) community.

“There were quite a few APA students at Pepperdine, but I didn’t find a cohesive sense of community among them,” he recalls. In his second year at the School of Law, as a member of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) board, Lee worked with then-president Marilyn Kim (’13) to create a more unified and larger presence on campus.

Becoming more involved with the Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Lee was intent on bringing more awareness to such issues and being an advocate for Pepperdine’s part in the APA community. “I was lucky that she made a big push to reach out to not only the students on campus, but also the Greater Los Angeles community not only for the sake of networking, but also to create a community that wasn’t there.” When it came time to elect the next president, Lee was front and center, eager to continue the legacy in his final year as a student.

He and the members of the board got started tackling major topics, such as minority issues and breaking through the glass ceiling—matters of great importance to the APA community. “I found that a lot of APA students experience similar setbacks and, while it’s important to simply have a voice in the student body, it is imperative to recognize that we have a unique political identity that’s very distinct from what others may be familiar with.”

In his undergraduate career at Pomona College, Lee acted as head mentor for the Asian American Mentor Program, an organization aimed at developing Asian American leaders. Becoming more involved with the APA Bar Association as a law student, Lee was intent on bringing added awareness to such issues and being an advocate for Pepperdine’s part in the APA community.

“Regardless of people’s political beliefs or what they support, I always advocate diversity of opinions and people. I do believe we can have civil discourse and engagement with regard to these things and make progress on these serious and important issues of our day.”

Beyond exclusively serving the APA community, one of Lee’s most ambitious goals as president of the APALSA this year has been to encourage and nurture the presence and participation of non-APA students in the organization.

“If there’s something I’m most proud of as president is that our membership is incredibly diverse,” he enthuses. “It was something I wanted, but never expected. The fact that our active student membership, and the people who are paying dues, is composed not only of people who self-identify with APA only creates a better sense of community.”

Lee was recently recognized by the National Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (NAPALSA) and won the Student of the Year Award, an honor that recognizes exceptional student members demonstrating a commitment to the organization’s mission, service to his/her local APALSA organization, and the promotion of Asian Pacific Americans in the legal profession.

“I didn’t think that what I was doing should be ‘recognized,’” explains Lee. “It was an odd feeling for me, but at the same time I understood its importance, because we do want to get our name out there, not only locally, but also nationally. It was important not only for APALSA to be recognized, but also Pepperdine.”

Perhaps the only downside to Lee’s hard work throughout the past three years is that, as an exclusively student-run organization, APALSA must carry on without him after he graduates. “There isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do with APALSA, like create bridges between our and other organizations. It’s one of the saddest things I feel about my time at law school!”

Based on his successful history revitalizing the APA community at Pepperdine and making a name for the organization in Southern California, Lee plans to find more ways to stay connected to his roots and his mission to further the APA cause. “I can’t give you reasons why I do them, I just know why they need to be done. If you told me I couldn’t do it, I would still do everything I could to do the things I’ve done with APALSA.”

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