Go up to the fourth floor of the Student Union from the front, bank a hard right, walk straight and you’ll be met with the gleaming doors of the Asian American Cultural Center (AsACC). Before you make it to the front desk, where a student staff worker will greet you and ask you how you’re doing before telling you what events are going on that week, you might be hit with a delicious smell from a fundraiser going on that day.
The center was created on the foundations of students and faculty that rallied in an Asian American movement on campus following the taunting and physical harassment of eight students of Asian descent on a bus on December 3, 1987, according to the center’s website. The center was opened in April 1993 due to the working of students and faculty when local law enforcement and university officials failed to appropriately address the situation.
The center continues to spread to the UConn community as a whole in educating on diversity and richness.
“The center has brought issues about our community to light given that we are often left out of the conversation due to the buy-in of the model minority myth,” Angela Rola, director of the center, said. “Our community is so diverse.”
Recently, the students and staff came together virtually to celebrate the center’s 27th birthday this year.
For many students at the University of Connecticut, cultural centers are a vital, vibrant part of the UConn community, with many Huskies going there for fun and impactful events, tasty food fundraisers and a hang-out spot in between classes to escape from a hectic day.
The center is an umbrella for various Asian American student organizations affiliated with the center including the Vietnamese Student Association, the Bangladeshi Student Association, the Filipino American Student Association, the Half Asian People’s Association and more.
AsACC, as so many students that go there fondly call it, is home for many students that have found their place at UConn by going to the center.
Uyen Le, a second-semester environmental studies major, is one of the student staff members that would greet you at the front desk. The center is home away from home for her.
“I truly feel like everyone in our staff cares about one another. Everyone is willing to help one another if issues arise,” Le said. Not only that, but the center has also given her an opportunity to care more deeply and become more involved with her major by setting up a climate panel in the center.
When students graduate from UConn and inevitably AsACC, the impact of the center is still felt in their post-graduate lives. Jeffrey Alton, an alum who worked at the center with a focus on alumni development and grant writing, now works at the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center’s at the University of Illinois as Associate Director for Student Development & Evaluation. He recalled the center as “magic,” a place that was a working space and where strong bonds were created through shared identity.
“This environment is something I have actively sought to recreate in the other spaces where I have worked, and reflecting on how our staff and center operates, I am proud to say it is very similar,” he said. “There is that certain magic that exists here, and you know what I’m talking about if you have ever worked at the Center. I am proud to say that is one of the biggest impacts I have from my time at UConn.”
The staff round out the experience at the center and are much loved by the students. Sheila Kucko is the Assistant Director of AsACC. She started working at the center upon its opening in 1993 and had not known then she would still be able to see and contribute to the success of the center today.
“Little did I know that when I began working at AsACC, that I would still be here 27 years later – working and learning in a welcoming, vibrant and productive place,” she said. “Being a part of the memorable impact AsACC has had on individual students, and the cultural understanding of the greater UConn community, has been a one of the greatest blessings of my life.”
Merz Lim is the Associate Director of Programming and has felt the development of AsACC personally as a Filipino-American and in his professional path.
“Being an immigrant and living in Texas, my town was not diverse in respect of folks like me who are Asian/Asian American identified,” he said. “It was not until I came to UConn for my graduate studies and being a graduate assistant at AsACC that I felt a sense of community/belongingness; an overwhelming feeling that I did not have to explain who I was, types of cultural foods that I prepared in the AsACC kitchen or explaining familial expectations. It is this kind of space that I yearned for throughout undergrad.”
The center holds many cultural events throughout the year that all students can attend, many of them annual staples.
Steven Chen is a fourth-semester finance major and analytics minor who has found more connectivity with his culture as a Chinese American through events he attends with friends such as Lunar New Year and Asian Nite.
“Coming from New Haven I didn’t know much about my own culture or cared to learn about it,” he said. “AsACC has not only opened me up to my own culture but also many other cultures that I wasn’t highly aware of which has become a great learning experience too.”
Holly Zheng, an eighth-semester graphic design major, found pride for her culture again through AsACC. She was not proud of being Asian growing up, she said.
“This was contributed by growing up in predominantly white environments and being exposed to both negative stereotypes as well as personal experiences with my dysfunctional family,” she said. “Being amongst a community of Asian Americans who can find pride in our heritage has helped me appreciate my identity.”
Ask any student at the center, and they each have a unique story about how they came into the center like Jason Trieu, an eighth-semester Management and Engineering for Manufacturing major.
“I remember coming into UConn for the first time (cue cliché story about how everyone gets happy finding AsACC), I only spent my time in the basement of the library because I didn’t have many friends to go to or hang out with,” he said. “I honestly don’t know what got to me or what brought me to AsACC, if anything it just kind of happened, but I regret none of it. I remember only meeting amazing people who would later be my best friends that I know I can rely on for life.”
Beyond events, the center is also home to the Asian Mentoring Program (AMP). It is a peer partnering program that allows new students to be paired with continuing students, allowing for outreach opportunities and a variety of resources for academics and beyond.
Sueing Ngov is a sixth-semester applied mathematics and economics double major who attributed the program to allowing her to connect with first-generation students like herself as a mentor. Mentors take a semester class with the director of the center, Angela Rola.
“The class is all about being able to reflect on what your own cultural identity means to you. The program has allowed me to get to know not only my own mentees, but other mentors and mentees,” she said. “AMP particularly speaks out to me because it targets the struggles of being a first generation college student. Knowing first hand how hard it is to transition into college, AMP gives me the opportunity to give back to my community and guide those who may need it.”
The center also greets students from all over the world, not just the country as well. Sana Haroon is a student staff member and a fourth-semester physiology and neurobiology major who recalled a dinner that the center held for students from the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
“They came from all over South East Asia to develop different entrepreneurship projects,” she said. “Even though we came from such different backgrounds, we instantly connected with each other. We laughed and sang songs – no one wanted our dinner together to end. Even though I only met them once, we still keep in touch.”
Despite everyone being separated during the pandemic, the center is still finding virtual ways to bring its students together. This week, the center announced on it’s Instagram that it will celebrate its seniors this week.
Kucko has a phrase that she repeats all the time.
“I have said it many times – I have the best job on campus!,” she said. “I hope AsACC is here for students for many years to come.”
Kimberly Nguyen is the associate digital editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.