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The Day the Asian
Frat Boys Cried

aka the Day the Wang Center
Stopped Being the Wang Asian/American Center

 

OP/ED
March 2013

If only students, faculty and staff now could feel the excitement and pride the Asian community felt in 1996 when it was announced that Charles Wang was giving Stony Brook the largest donation in SUNY history for an Asian American Center.

It wasn't just Chinese. He talked of the struggles of being an Asian American in a White majority culture and every person of color had been there too and knew exactly where he was coming from. 

Except for some students in the media, AAS classes, and club leaders, only older faculty and staff know all that now. For current students the Wang Center is just a place to eat and occasionally see a show. They don't even know that Jasmine was named after Wang's daughter.

But it wasn't supposed to be that way. It was supposed to have been filled with Asian / American everything all the time, not just its architecture. And it was supposed to be geared for students. After all, in his college days, Charles Wang had been the equivalent of the CASB President.  

There is plenty of blame to go around for why that didn't happen and if it was simply ancient history, it could be ignored. But so far President Stanley has made things worse, not better.

But back to that hard to imagine day when the fraternity boys cried. For years everyone had watched the construction as an old parking lot became a massive hole in the ground and then was built higher and higher until the pagoda tower shimmered in the sky.

Students spent months practicing for their performances for when the Center would open in October 2002. Then, in the course of just a few days, with the announcement of the grand opening date, the Wang Center went from being called
1) the Charles B. Wang Asian American Center
to just
2) the Charles B. Wang Center
to a compromise the students came up with but no one liked, they just thought it was better than nothing
3) the Charles B. Wang Center Celebrating Asian and Asian American Cultures.

Before the Charles B. Wang Asian American Center was built, I was an OWL volunteering in it's precursor, also funded by Wang, the Asian American Center Bridge between Harriman Hall and Physics. The AAC Bridge was used by all the Asian interest student clubs and orgs because they had no other place.

It's amazing where students will find space to use at night when there are no suits around - the upper floors of the library, labs, lobbies, one year Taiko Tides even practiced in the P-lot waiting area. Students couldn't wait for the Wang Center to open so they would have more than that 12 foot wide former hallway. (Now they don't even have that.)

I don't remember if it was Nappies* or Psi's* who were there the day the name change news came down. Followed by a new University web page with a trumpet announcing the grand opening as part of the Golden Year. We took screen shots each day as the naming crisis unfolded and the name on the page would change.

President Kenny didn't want it called an Asian American Center. She felt that would come across as exclusive to non-Asians. 

So here was this other OWL telling kids who had felt excluded all their lives in the White majority culture that the building they thought was being given to them suddenly wasn't theirs at all.

I was angry and expected that same reaction from the students. But I'm White and that was one of those times I just didn't get it. They weren't angry. They were hurt.

It's been more than ten years now but I can still see the faces of those guys. Some didn't have tears streaming down their cheeks like all the girls did. But not a single one had dry eyes. The looks were of disbelief. They could not fathom how this could happen.

Guys crying in public is rare. Asian guys crying in public - fat chance. Asian frat boys crying in public - no way in hell. Even at funerals most Asian guys suck it in. Classic definition of stoics. Asians reading this will know exactly what I mean.

How to make the best of a bad situation? A compromise. As a White person, I thought it was okay - inclusive without being exclusive - about a culture, not for a culture. Looking back now, huge mistake. We said it would just be called the Wang Center or simply Wang, and it's true, that's what everyone says.

But the official short version name should have kept the meaning of the building. Every new student, faculty and staff member should have known it was not just named after some Asian guy, or donated by some Asian  guy; that it didn't just look Asian but that it served a purpose.

The compromise name is so long it almost never gets used.

So now when the Director of Conferences and Special Events is selling the facility to off campus organizations for their events, it's just a beautiful place with wonderful Asian inspired architecture named after the donor. Makes her job easier. But for students, faculty, and staff, each outside rental is one less time they can use their building.

For the Asian and Asian American community, it became one more lesson in the White people in charge being oblivious to their feelings.

And now another President is repeating history. Stanley is allowing that beautiful Asian looking facility to be overpowered and aesthetically destroyed by architecturally mediocre looking dorms built by the lowest bidder. Another oblivious White President. 

Because he is married to someone Chinese, everyone thought he would be more racially attuned, more culturally aware. No one believes that anymore. When Stanley went to China, one of our alumni came away saying, "He doesn't like Chinese." I was like, "No, he's just dorky, he never seems comfortable with anyone."

But is that true? He is jokingly called a Rice King, which for his generation meant the White guys the White girls didn't want to date, and Asian girls were too naive to realize that. In the Union Student Media wing they roll their eyes about the instant Stanley smile - he's always camera ready - but it never includes his eyes. Were we blindsided by his wife?

And it also appears Stanley didn't realize there would be backlash getting rid of Sunita Mukhi as Director of Asian and Asian American Programs either, and his underlings would create more with dishonest justifications.

Even those who have been upset with Mukhi because she did not try to go against Presidents Kenny and Stanley by making the Wang Center welcome to student events understood the value of the professional performances she did bring in.

Many of us look at what has happened recently and hope the University finally sees the light. 
--- Stanley will move the dorms across to the other side of the Union parking lot so they won't screw up the Wang Asian American Center.
--- A young Asian American alumn will be hired who not only has experience in the event or entertainment world but knows what the students on campus want too.
--- The types of programs that have gone on in the Wang Center won't go away because they provide something new that students would not otherwise get the chance to see,
--- But that student events and performances are welcomed in the Wang Center even more than those outside performances.  

As then ASA President Wendy Liem wrote to Charles Wang ten years ago, "Your gift was supposed to be my 2nd home, please make sure it is." 

Hope springs eternal. Who knows, somehow Stanley may turn out not to be a dismal failure, but at this point I don't think anyone would bet odds on it. If it weren't for Jim Simons millions propping the university up, there's no telling where we would be.

What's sad is to realize how little we've grown in those ten years. That frat boys still have reason to cry.
 
Ja Young
Alumni Editor

*While students will know the names, for everyone else, the first two Asian interest fraternities on campus were Nu Alpha Phi, commonly referred to as the Nappies, and Pi Delta Psi, commonly referred to as P D Psi or the Psi's.
 

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