Student Activism

Student Activism - 1980s-1998


As early as 1988, Asian American students voice the need for campus resources to support and celebrate the growing Asian American student population at Indiana University.  They initially propose an Asian American Studies program (AAST) and a cultural center—modelled after the Neal-Marshal Black Culture Center and La Casa Latino Cultural Center—aimed at exploring Asian American histories, communities, and culture.   Driven to make campus feel more welcoming to Asian Americans, they teach experimental Asian American Studies courses. They start up ethnic student organizations and campus traditions including first Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in 1994. Due to Asian American students’ persistence, ingenuity, and activism, Indiana University launches the IU Asian Culture Center in 1998 and the Asian American Studies Program in 2008.


Spring 1989—First Asian American Studies Course at IUB

Doctoral student Vincent Gotera (MFA '89, PhD in English/American Studies '92) teaches the first Asian American Studies course at IUB: “Asian American Life and Literature,” offered through IUB’s Collins Living Learning Center, a thematic residence hall.  In the course description, Gotera notes, “Possibly a pioneering step to an Asian American Studies program at I.U.”(3)

Gotera creates IUB’s very first Asian American Studies course to push students to pay attention to Asian American issues at the local and national level.  “This politicization of my students was important because those students began to organize and do activist work that eventually resulted in IU establishing the Asian Culture Center,” Gotera later reflects.(4) For the history of the Collins Living Learning Center, see the full course catalogue.


Possibly a pioneering step to an Asian American Studies program at I.U.

January 1994—IUB’s First Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Student leaders from the Asian American Association curate the first Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In collaboration with ten student groups, AAA hosts six major events aiming “to bring people together” around food, family, and a mission to educate the campus and Bloomington community about Asian American issues.”(9) Asian American students organize, fundraise, and host this month-long celebration with minimal administrative assistance.(10)  Since its inception, the AAPI Heritage Month has become an annual campus tradition.


The First Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at IU (10)

The cover, featuring IUB senior Rob Yang, of the program booklet for the1996 Midwest Asian American Student Union conference, hosted and organized by several IUB student groups from April 4-7, 1996. Midwest Asian American Student Union, April 1996.

April 4-7, 1996—IUB Hosts the Midwest Asian American Student Union Conference

IUB’s Asian American community hosts the sixth Midwest Asian American Student Union Conference, bringing 400 students from 25 Midwestern colleges to Bloomington.(12) Conference co-chairs Khai Truong and Fidelia Park welcome attendees by noting that the event is one of many “positive changes” moving IUB closer to “establishing an Asian Culture Center and an Asian American studies program.”(13)


Like African American literature at IUB, Asian American literature will inevitably vacillate between collaborative assimilation through English, and separatist resistance through Asian American Studies. Nevertheless, an Asian American Studies Department at IUB will lend visibility and credence to an ethnic American heritage that is largely ignored by mainstream Americans until they decide to take out from Dragon instead of Pizza Hut, or check out Rumble in the Bronx instead of Braveheart.  

Quote from IU alumnus Hiromi Yoshida’s (MLS ‘11) course paper for a spring 1996 English course on Issues & Motives in Literary Study. Titled, “Contextually Speaking: Departmentalizing Asian American Literature at Indiana University Bloomington,” Yoshida considers the possibility of offering Asian American literature courses at IUB.

January 21, 1997—IUB Students Mobilize on Martin Luther King Day to Demand Diversity Initiatives

Students from 40+ campus organizations mobilize to demand that IUB undertake major diversity initiatives. IUB Chancellor Kenneth Gros Louis agrees to their demands and sets aside $50,000 to establish the Asian Culture Center.  The Asian Culture Center is a crucial step to building a cohesive community to advocate for the creation of IUB’s Asian American Studies program.(14)


40+Campus organizations mobilizing for major diversity initiatives at IU on MLK Day, 1997

$50,000Set aside to establish the Asian Culture Center

October 3, 1998—Asian Culture Center Grand Opening

Hundreds of campus and community members crowd into the Collins Living Learning Center courtyard to celebrate the Asian Culture Center’s official opening. IU alumni involved in ACC’s inception, including Joon Park (BA’98) and Mona Wu (BA’93), return for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Governor Frank O’Bannon proclaims October 3, 1998 as “Asian Culture Center Day” in the state of Indiana. Chancellor Kenneth Gros Louis cuts the red ribbon wrapped around the front porch of house located on 807 E. 10th Street.  A student-faculty committee, approved by Chancellor Gros Louis, hires Melanie Castillo-Cullather as the inaugural director of the culture center.  The ACC becomes the first Midwest student-based center dedicated to Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander cultures, history, and issues.(15)


The grand opening of the Asian Culture Center hosted in the courtyard of the Collins Living Learning Center on October 3, 1998.  Vonetta Logan, Indiana Daily Student, October 5, 1998.