Courtesy of Joliana Yee
Four decades ago, roughly 100 Asian American students — at that point about a third of the total Asian American population enrolled in Yale College — met with then-Yale president Bart Giamatti to fight for a space of their own on campus, beyond a few rooms in the basement of Bingham Hall. That desire for representation manifested in the Asian American Cultural Center at 295 Crown St., a dedicated community space for students to connect with and promote culture, organize programming and coordinate Pan-Asian activism. It was the first Asian American Cultural Center in the Ivy League and is the third oldest on an American college campus.
Since then, the Center has expanded to include over 50 affiliated student organizations and an army of more than 30 peer liaisons, undergraduates and graduate staff members. Now, the AACC is preparing to kick off its 40th anniversary with a celebration, held virtually on May 12. The event will feature a teach-in, a panel of AACC alumni staffers and the unveiling of several AACC digital history projects. The News asked both students and faculty about the impact of the AACC on the students and the future of Asian American activism on campus.
“The AACC is a historical space that has served as an affinity space for many students of color over the decades,” said AACC Director Joliana Yee in an email to the News. “It allowed Asian and Asian American students to dream, organize and create things they wanted to see in their social, political, academic and professional realms.”
According to Yee, the Center received around 1,000 visitors per month prior to the pandemic. Yee said that this increase in foot traffic is a result of staff efforts to build a more welcoming space through kitchen renovations, celebrations of cultural heritage and the Gary Okihiro Library on the third floor of the Center. The library contains 2,000 copies of books written by Okihiro — an Asian American Ethnicity, Race and Migration professor at Yale.
Amy Ren ’22, a Peer Liaison for the AACC, said that the AACC community and Yee helped her adjust to school during the pandemic. Ren said she signed up to be a PL because she wanted to support first years.
“The AACC has been really refreshing because I’ve gotten to know other team members who care so much about the community as well and are working tirelessly to make sure that it’s still up and running,” said Ren.
Pia Gorme ’23 and Ananya Kumar-Banerjee ’21 are two of the students responsible for coordinating the 40th-anniversary celebrations. Kumar-Banerjee said that the AACC has grown to represent a more capacious understanding of what it means to be Asian and Asian American at Yale.
“The Asian American Cultural Center acts as a homebase for Asian and Asian American students as Yale,” said Kumar-Banerjee. “It’s both a place for people to build friendships and to organize for a better world.”
Although the building has been closed this academic year due to public health restrictions, its doors are set to reopen next semester. Yee said that while she hopes that more celebrations of AACC history can happen in-person next semester, the Asian American community on campus will remain connected regardless.
“The AACC is [a] community that extends beyond the four walls of the physical building because it is an embodied and shared experience that students carry with them even beyond their time as alumni,” said Yee.
To register for the May 12 event, you can RSVP at http://bit.ly/AACC40th. Those that attend may receive a free T-shirt, hat or sticker. Students can also sign up for the AACC newsletter to receive regular updates.