By Jenna Fattah, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2019, History and Media Management, Bloomington
The Asian Culture Center celebrates 20 years at IU Bloomington in October 2018. As stated on their website, their goals are to inform and promote awareness, to support coalition building and unity, to build a more inclusive and welcoming community, and to listen to the needs of students.
These goals have been rooted in the ACC from the first proposal. The road to the Asian Culture Center has been paved by activism and student leaders.
The Asian Culture Center found its roots in student activism as a response to dissatisfaction at Indiana University. Professors Christine Bennett and Alton Okinaka conducted a study in the fall of 1982 and fall of 1985 at Indiana University that analyzed IU student satisfaction levels at IU (66 Asians, 214 Blacks, 72 Hispanics, and 105 Whites were polled).
Out of the minorities surveyed, Asians had the highest level of persistence, meaning the highest level of first years continuing on through the university for all four years. Interestingly, these “persisters” were less satisfied with campus social relationships (including feeling more alienated) than non-persisters. Asian persisters also felt weaker feelings of accomplishments on campus than non-persisters. (1)
By the end of this study, in 1985, there were 476 Asian/Pacific Islanders self-identified students through the IU Registrar out of the 32,800 on the Bloomington campus. (2) These numbers only increased in the coming decades.
IU was not the only location where there was increased dissatisfaction among Asian and Pacific Islanders. The 1982 racially motivated murder of Detroit autoworker Vincent Chin sparked an era of “Asian American Building and Consciousness” as described by Asian American historian and IU alumna Stephanie Nguyen.
Vincent Chin was a Chinese American autoworker in Detroit, Michigan who was mistaken as Japanese, and targeted by two autoworkers who blamed him for the loss of their jobs. Beaten unconscious with a baseball bat, Chin died four days later. His attackers served no jail time, paid a small fine, and were sentenced to three years of probation. This movement aimed to educate the American public on the diverse history and culture of Asians and Asian Americans. (3)
It is no surprise that the Asian American Association was founded by students in 1987 after a growing sentiment of Asian dissatisfaction both at IU and nationally. Bringing the Asian American Consciousness Building movement to IU was the founding of the Asian American Association. Self-described in their founding constitution, the Asian American Association defined themselves as “a non-profit, non-political, and secular organization whose purpose is to instill and maintain a spirit of community among the Asians at Indiana University.”
Its goals included promoting Asian cultures and encouraging “understanding between Asians and peoples of other ethnic origins.” It was one of the first organizations, let alone student-led, to bring together Asians and Asian Americans of different cultures, and is still active on campus today. (4) The AAA hosted events such as Diversity Week and Asian Heritage Month to unite different Asian communities and educate the general population.
Through these inclusive events, they held forums on Americanization, film festivals to discuss racism and stereotypes, a martial arts demonstration to illustrate cultural history, and a performance night featuring a variety of cultural practices. (5)
The year 1990 not only marked the start of a new decade, it also contained a series of unfortunate events later listed as “grievances” which motivated student activists to craft the first proposal for an Asian American Advocacy Dean. The first of these grievances was known as the discrimination at Redbud Hill Apartments: On February 14, 1990, a woman was assaulted in the Redbud Hill Apartments. She described her attacker as a 30-year-old Asian male.
In the early morning, the Indiana University Police Department questioned and strip-searched residents only with “Asian-looking” names, looking for the scratch marks from the victim’s defense. An IUSA (IU Student Association, the student government on campus) Resolution called for the subsequent apology from the IUPD to these residents for racial profiling. (6)
The second incident cited in the proposal followed a few months later: Student David Jung was physically and verbally attacked by Bloomington locals on July 25, 1990. His assailants only referred to him with the racial slur ‘Chink,’ and it was reported that “the physical attack, bad as it was, will remain secondary in David’s eyes because of the fact that the assailant denied him an individual identity.” (6)
Asian American activists submitted a proposal for an advocacy dean in 1991, arguing that Asians were the fastest growing minority population, and yet IU offered little to no academic and cultural programs for, by, or about Asian Americans. Other under represented minorities on campus had an Advocacy Dean to lobby for their interests in the administration, as well as a culture center to serve as a community hub, but Asian and Pacific Islanders had neither.
This exclusion negatively impacted Asian American students and community opportunities to “gain self-discovery and pride in their heritage.” The resolution to endorse the proposal for an Asian American advocate dean passed in the student government but stalled until a second proposal in 1996. (2)
Because the first proposal stalled in the student government, and the following years featured more grievances illustrating a need for education and awareness, a second proposal was written.
A lack of education on Asian cultural diversity was evident in a November 1995 IUSA Congressional Meeting: representatives of three different Asian student organizations presented their programs for unification and respect. They were accused of “being “front groups” in order to maximize the funding for their initiatives,” and did not recognize that these student activists wished to unite the different cultural groups for educational programming. (6)
The second grievance noted in the 1996 proposal occurred a few months later. The Indiana Daily Student reported on two different events held by two different organizations, the Japanese Student Association’s New Year Party and Asian American Heritage Month, in one article. They were combined because the editors did not choose to differentiate these organizations into their distinct organizations, instead grouping them because they were “Asian” groups. (6) Student activists sought to rectify this ignorance.
Asian American Association President Joon Park wrote a draft of the second proposal in the summer of 1996 for the Strategic Initiatives Grant, which would award $50,000 to the proposal that “furthers(s) the mission of the university.” He was part of a larger group called the Student Coalition, which was made up of 32 student organizations who had seven demands for the Chancellor’s Office for change. (7).
Among these proposed changes to IU’s campus was the proposal for the Asian Culture Center, “maintenance and expansion of diversity programs,” including Latino Studies and permanent funding for an LGBTQ+ office, and no classes on MLK Day, as presented to the Board of Trustees by the student body president. The plan garnered support from the student government, as well as faculty and Bloomington residents. (11)
The proposal stated that Asian Americans remained a misunderstood and excluded racial group, although they were the fastest growing minority group in the United States, Indiana, and at IU. IU did not live up to its goals of diversity for Asian Americans with a lack of interest and implementation in programming, and educational programming on stereotypes and cultural history would greatly impact Asian and Asian American students at IU. (8)
To rectify this, the student activists called for both an Advocacy Dean to help with representing their interests in the administration, and a culture center to unify and educate the community.
The Asian Culture Center’s mission statement presented in the proposal is echoed in their present goals: they planned to educate, support, serve and to educate both the local and IU community about the history, culture, and struggles of Asian Americans through different workshops and forums. They sought to support and build unity among Asian Americans through this resource center, providing tutoring and counseling, and outreach programs especially for Asian Americans.
They sought to address racism about Asian Americans through education on stereotypes, supporting anti-racism struggles for other minorities, and provide a space for discussion for other people of color. (8)
The second proposal was received well by student government, as their resolution stated: “An Asian Culture Center will educate the Asian American and the general campus community about the history, culture, and current struggles of Asian Americans while better linking Asian Americans with the campus community…”
IUSA championed diversity, and thus the resolution passed to endorse the proposal, which was cosponsored by student organizations including the Asian Student Union, the Asian American Association, the Black Student Union, Latinos-Unidos-IU, griot, COUP, and then-current IUSA executives. (9)
With plans for the Culture Center approved by the Chancellor and moving forward, the second part of the proposal for an Advocacy Dean. The Asian and Pacific Islander students wanted a dean to represent their interests because they did not have any representation in the administration.With the ACC planned to open later that year, the Bloomington Faculty Council failed to approve a budget for an Asian American Advocacy Dean.
This is because the Advocacy Dean model had been under scrutiny and instead of creating a new dean position for an Asian American Dean, the whole system would be phased out and have responsibilities transferred to the respective culture centers. The responsibilities of this dean as presented in the proposal would be filled by the staff of the ACC. (10) Volunteer students, many of whom were student leaders in the Asian American Association, helped the center open in fall of 1998. (7).
- Bennett, Christine and Alton Okinaka. “Factors related to persistence among Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White undergraduates at a predominantly white university: Comparison between first and fourth year cohorts.” The Urban Review, Volume 22, Number 1 (1990): 33. Link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01110631
- SEA 1426 (91-2-8) Resolution to Endorse the Proposal for an Asian American Advocate Dean at IU-Bloomington. Box 8, C234, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana
- Interview, Stephanie Nguyen. October 2017.
- Constitution, Asian American Association, 1992-94, Box 56, C234, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
- 200-2-82 Asian American Heritage Month, Asian American Association, 1992-1994, Box 56, C234, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
- 1996 Improvements for the Asian American Community on the Indiana University Bloomington Campus, Asian American Folder, Box 24, C234, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
- De La Rosa, Kathryn. “Founding the Asian Culture Center, 1996 to Now (transcript)”
- Proposal to Establish an Asian American Advocate Dean and an Asian American Cultural Center at Indiana University-Bloomington July 19th, 1996, Asian American Affairs, Box 24, C234, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
- Congress Resolution, Asian American Affairs, Box 24, C234, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana
- Students Push For Dean 1998, Asian American Advocacy Dean, Asian American Reference Files, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.<
- Board of Trustees Minutes, January 24, 1997. http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/archives/iubot/1997-01-24