The leadership of Yale’s four cultural centers is in the hands of administrators who have all been at Yale for a year or less, just months after campus protests and student demands for better cultural resources led Yale administrators to double funding for each of the centers.
On Aug. 18, Asian American Cultural Center Director Saveena Dhall announced she will leave her current position, which she has held for 16 years, to take on a new role at the School of Nursing. With Dhall’s departure, the top administrators at each of the cultural centers will be almost entirely brand new: The directors of the Afro-American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural and the Native American Cultural Center all assumed their positions in July 2015. All of the cultural centers also welcomed four new assistant directors over the summer, another step taken after campus demonstrations last fall.
Despite the turnover, administrators and students interviewed by the News said they are optimistic about the cultural centers’ futures. With increased funding and assistant directors to reduce the directors’ workloads, those involved in the cultural centers said they hope the changes signal the University’s increased commitment to providing more attention to the centers and opportunities for them to collaborate.
“Having the assistant director positions created is a great indication from the University that they are building out the resources for the cultural centers,” La Casa Cultural Assistant Director Maclovia Quintana ’11 FES ’14 said. “My hope too is that our positions will help create connections both to other centers and to the University.”
Several cultural center affiliates described the potential for new programming made possible by the new support. Quintana said the four assistant directors have already worked together extensively in order to plan intercultural events. Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard, who oversees the cultural centers, and the four directors have treated the assistant directors very much as a cohort, scheduling multiple overlapping meetings in order to make space for collaboration, Quintana said.
“Because they started as a cohort and we’re doing orientation for them together as a team, we already see how wonderfully they complement each other,” Dhall told the News. “There are many conversations about the intercultural partnerships they can have in the future.”
Before the arrival of the assistant directors, the directors had to split their time between the centers and the Yale College Dean’s Office, where they were assistant deans. Now, with the help of the assistant directors, they can focus on setting long-term goals for the centers, student staffers said. Students also highlighted the benefits of having someone physically present in the centers at all times.
“I know things will run much smoother with someone at the NACC — and the other cultural centers — full time,” said NACC student staffer Haylee Kushi ’18.
Individually, Dhall said, the assistant directors bring an immense wealth of experiences. For example, Assistant Director of the Afro-American Cultural Center Shane Lloyd had already worked at a multicultural center at Brown University before coming to Yale, bringing years of training in intercultural collaborations. And Assistant Director of the Native American Cultural Center Kapiolani Laronal previously worked at Dartmouth College, where she advised Native American students. AACC Assistant Director Raymond Firmalino was at the Office of Student Affairs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Quintana served as the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Fellow for the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
The position of assistant director is not new to all of the cultural centers. La Casa previously had an assistant director — Amanda Hernandez MED ’16, who also served as interim director of the center briefly in 2014 — La Casa graduate assistant Carlos Hernandez GRD ’20 said.
With Dhall’s recently announced departure, the AACC is also looking to bring in a new director. Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway told the News that the search process has just started. A committee will be established and “up and running within a few weeks,” he said.
Howard said he hopes the committee will invite candidates to campus this semester and have a new director in place for spring semester.
“It is an ambitious goal, but one I believe could be achievable,” Howard said. “However, my objective is to bring the best possible person we can to Yale to support the needs of the Asian and Asian-American community, and if it takes a bit longer to find that person, we will manage.”
In the meantime, Howard said, Dhall and assistant director Firmalino are working to ensure that programs at the center are in place and that Dhall’s transition will be as smooth as possible. AACC graduate assistant Courtney Sato GRD ’19 said Firmalino will play an integral role at the center as Dhall begins her new position. Firmalino brings new energy and ideas to the AACC’s mission while sustaining the center’s core initiatives, Sato said.
Dhall told the News that while she will miss the AACC dearly, she is excited for her successor to be welcomed into a thriving community.
“Because there is such a strong sense of partnership on campus, I hope the person coming in will fall into an existing system of support, and not have to build the expectation that we work in solidarity,” she said. “Hopefully [the transition] will be seamless for the next person.”