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
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,
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
1) the Charles B. Wang Asian American Center
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.)
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
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
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.
official short version name should have kept the
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
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.
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
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
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
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
--- 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
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
*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.