A Talk with AAC Director Andrew Shen

By Adam Smith, SAMPAN


BOSTON – Oct 7, 2005 – Northeastern University celebrated the official kick-off of its new Asian American Center on September 29. The center will develop programs to help students explore their ethnic and social identities while also reaching out to non-Asians. So far, the center has started a peer mentoring program for freshmen students, an Asian American literature book club, and various Asian American affinity groups.
To learn more about the center, the Sampan recently interviewed Andrew Shen, its director.

Sampan: What is the function of the Asian American Center?

Our function is to complement some of the other cultural centers that already exist, the African American Institute, the Latino Center, and the International Student and Scholar Institute. I would describe the center in three bullets: The first is to increase the visibility of the Asian American Community and the Asian American Experience here at the Northeastern. The second is to provide direct services to those who identify as part of the Asian American Community. And third, and I think this is very important to emphasize, (to promote) learning across all sectors of the community — to encourage not only learning of Asian American issues by the entire community, but to encourage those in my community, the Asian American community, to also become involved in the programs of my fellow cultural centers.

Sampan: Discuss the last point about encouraging Asian Americans to get involved in programs of other cultures.

Basically, if I run programs and 95% of the audience is always Asian American, then I’m not doing my job correctly. The goal is to really encourage sharing. (Also,) I think philosophically the reason we believe in that is simply because the work of educating people of various experiences can’t be done fully unless people who don’t identify with the experience that we’re experiencing are involved.

Sampan: Will people outside the university have access to the center?

Obviously there are some programs that are geared specifically towards Northeastern, but most of our large events, or when we bring speakers, are always free and open to the public.

Sampan: Do you plan to collaborate with any area institutes?

Yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense. Admittedly, since we’re (new), we haven’t developed any consistent relationships (yet). Hopefully, eventually we can co-host some activities together.

Sampan: Explain the center’s peer mentoring program?

That’s sort of our flagship for student programs right now. We recruited 12 upperclassmen, Asian American students, who have an interest in providing mentoring to this year’s freshmen. We had about 16 or 17 freshmen apply. It’s a program that tries to assist freshmen not only in regard to cultural identity in reflection to what it means to be an Asian American in Northeastern, but also just things that everybody has concerns about, such as student life, where to get the best deal on detergent, how to deal with financial issues…

Sampan: Talk about the Asian American literature book club at the center.

I have to first give credit to the University of Connecticut. They have an Asian American center there and they have a book club, so I borrowed their idea. The book club is open to all of Northeastern and we have about 22 participants. It’s a perfect example of our attempt to provide services to not only Asian Americans but also to anybody who has an interest in the issue. We pick four books a year and we meet once every few weeks to discuss the book, and the goal is to bring the author of each book, to campus and have a discussion. So the first book that we’re reading is “Asian American X” and the author is going to be coming in November.

Sampan: Did the center look at other similar centers at other universities when creating this?

Yeah, definitely. I think regionally, the people that we connected with the most was the University of Connecticut, Tufts, Dartmouth, and Brown, which doesn’t have an Asian American center but it has some programs that we wanted to replicate as it related to our work.

Sampan: How did the idea first come about?

It’s interesting. In a lot of cases at other schools… their centers came about because of unfortunate racial incidents and was often student-initiated. Here, this was initiated by faculty and staff that noticed the existence of other culture centers on campus and said to themselves: ‘well, we’re one of the largest ethnic minority groups on campus and we don’t have a center that tries to give voice to our experiences.’ So, they interacted with the president (of the university) over the course of four or five years and discussed the need and importance of it. Then, last year, they decided to move forward.

Sampan: What are some of your goals for the center?

The good news is that we found a space to move into. The university just purchased a small brownstone on Hemingway Street. In terms of programming, some of our big goals are to provide a series of workshops (and) to create a strong student base and constituency. We need to find a way for our students to feel like we’re advocating for them, and we’re worth their time and investment.

To learn more about aaca.neu.edu


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Adam Smith is English Editor of the Boston-based Sampan, New England’s only Chinese-English newspaper, published since 1972 by the Asian American Civic Association of Boston.

This article was originally published in Sampan, and appears here with permission.  Please do not reproduce without seeking permission of the copyright holder.

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