Purdue University's Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center is set to open in the next couple of months.
Students have been asking the administration for such a facility for several years.
Interim director Victoria Loong hopes the center will support Asian-American and Asian students and provide opportunities for education and awareness for the entire campus community.
The facility is actually a large room in Stewart Center— only big enough for a few desks and a small seating area.
But interim director Victoria Loong says it’s a start.
Purdue already has cultural centers for Black, Latino, Native American, and LGBTQ students.
But Loong says because there is such a large Asian-American and international Asian student population on campus, it was difficult to convince some people that those students also needed similar support.
“It was kind of a misconception that we are self-sufficient and that we don’t need a center to be able to support each other because there are so many of us," says Loong. "But that is a misconception because we don’t have a place to convene together. Everyone has their little groups and out coves in different parts of campus, but we needed a place to bring everyone together.”
The latest statistics from the university’s Office of Enrollment Management Analysis and Reporting show that in 2013-14, there were roughly 1,800 Asian-American students on the West Lafayette campus and more than 7,500 international Asian students.
That compares to around 1,200 African-American students and a few dozen who identify as Native American.
Loong actually began lobbying the Purdue administration for the cultural center when she was an undergraduate student.
She graduated last year, but has put off going to graduate school to serve as the center’s interim leader.
Loong says she’s been talking to the other cultural center directors on campus as well as Asian Cultural Center directors at other universities to get ideas and support.
Melanie Castillo-Cullather is the director of Indiana University’s Asian Culture Center, which has existed since 1998.
She says she’s frequently heard from Purdue students wanting to start a center in West Lafayette.
“I would say almost every two years we would get some students from Purdue asking us how we got the center established, and we would share the story," she says. "The students who are now alumni of Purdue, they did a really good job of not backing down.”
Castillo-Cullather believes having cultural centers shows a university values diversity.
“Not just from the administration’s point of view, but for students," she says. "To be in a place where there is that sense of belongingness and that sense of openness, a statement that says there are people who may not share the same background as you but they are as welcome as anyone is a big thing.”
She says the IU offers resources for Asian-American and international Asian students, sponsors educational programs for the entire campus, and advocated for creation of an Asian-American Studies Program and an Asian-American Alumni Association.
She says it’s reasonable for Purdue to have similar goals.
“It may have taken Purdue a while," says Castillo-Cullather, "but I would say that if they have resources now and they will invest more in it, I think even if they were just established this year I would not see that as a downside.”
Victoria Loong hopes the Purdue center quickly becomes a gathering place for both domestic and international Asian students.
“I want the students to be able to come here and socialize if they want. They can have meetings here if they would like. They can just come here for a place to talk to somebody," she says. "We’ll be able to be here to talk comfortably with the students and offer whatever support network they need.”
Loong says the space in Stewart Center is enough to get started, but she adds because students have been asking for the center for so long, in her mind they’ve already outgrown the space.
She hopes to secure a larger facility on campus within a few years.
An opening ceremony for the Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center will be held at the end of April.