Students, faculty and community members gathered Thursday to celebrate the long-awaited opening of UNC's Asian American Center in a new physical space on campus.
With masked smiles, Heidi Kim, the center's director, and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz cut the ribbon, officially opening the space for years to come.
The AAC, an organization devoted to cultivating a critical understanding of Asian American people, cultures and histories, is now located at the Carriage House on 215 W. Cameron Ave. Though the center was founded in 2020, its events were limited to virtual formats due to the pandemic.
To kick off the opening ceremony, Kim — a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature — said the center could not have opened at a more difficult nor a more critical time.
“During our first year, which of course was — of necessity — completely virtual, we faced not only the shared burdens of the pandemic, but an enormous surge in anti-Asian racism, including violent crime and an ongoing confrontation in our society about racial inequities in the United States and beyond,” Kim said.
After thanking those who made the opening of the AAC possible, Kim said she believes this space will host important conversations for generations to come. Then, she introduced the Chancellor.
Kim said the day after the Atlanta shootings, she received an email that Guskiewicz had cleared his schedule to attend the virtual vigil that the Asian American Center was holding.
“Through all the ups and downs that we have had here at the University, I have always remembered that he supported the Asian American community at one of our lowest moments without us even having to ask,” Kim said.
“I am the father of an Asian American, and my 14-year-old daughter would love to be here today," Guskiewicz said. "Asian Americans represent 17 percent of our student body, a critically important and diverse group for our University community.”
Junior Selina Shi, the AAC's campaign director, announced a scholarship award named after graduate June Yom. The award, housed within the AAC, will be a $25,000 stipend with a new recipient every year.
Eugene Lao, a founding donor for the AAC and founding member of the Asian Students Association, initiated the endowment for the June Yom Student Award.
“Learning about Asian American culture is especially important in the American South," Yom said. "At times, the racial climate can sometimes be dominated by the Black and white dichotomy. For me, as an Asian American that was always passionate about social justice, I was sometimes left wondering how do I fit in? How do I contribute? And where are my people?”
Shi said the AAC means something different for every student.
“For me, it’s a place where I can be myself,” Shi said. “Where I know that every aspect of my identity is accepted and celebrated. Because, as a minority, I grew up used to hiding parts of myself from the outside world. This center is a physical representation of those parts of ourselves that we have hidden."
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.