Row after row of student organizations, each with its own poster boards and flyers on hand, greeted eager, wide-eyed freshmen at this year’s extracurricular bazaar in Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Missing from the various cultural groups scrambling to get freshmen sign-ups, however, was the Japanese American Students Union, which has been absent from the extracurricular scene since last school year.
But with the arrival of a new cohort of Japanese and Japanese American freshmen, many of whom are eager to find a cultural home on campus, former leaders of the dormant group are considering a revival.
“If there is enough interest to start another board, I would be happy to advise the group and possibly serve as a board member,” former JASU Co-President Carmen Wilson ’17 said. “I hope freshmen come in and want to be adventurous and take the reins of JASU.”
Wilson explained that the group’s activity began to dwindle last year, when board members became unresponsive and she and Co-President Keiko Higashikawa ’18, who had assumed their positions in spring 2015, were left to plan events by themselves. That fall, both co-presidents began to study abroad in Japan: Wilson for the semester and Higashikawa for the entire year. JASU quickly fell idle.
Membership in JASU tends to fluctuate year to year, Wilson said. Her freshman year, JASU had 14 active seniors who planned many events and garnered a lot of interest on campus. When they graduated, however, the ranks of JASU shrank, and the organization has seen a decline in membership ever since.
This year, however, Wilson said she is excited to help the enthusiastic Japanese American freshmen carve out their own cultural niche. She added that she and Higashikawa will pass on the co-president positions to younger students.
When Kento Tanaka ’20 arrived on campus, he quickly realized that he was not the only Japanese American in his class. In fact, one of the first Yalies he befriended was another Japanese American freshman from Tanaka’s home state, Hawaii, and he soon met other Japanese Americans at Yale, many of whom are also freshmen.
At the beginning of the school year, Tanaka said, he signed up for various cultural groups on campus, including the Chinese American Students’ Association, the Taiwanese American Society, the Vietnamese Students Association and the Korean American Students at Yale. Eager to join a group that matched his own cultural identity, Tanaka wrote to JASU’s past presidents — Wilson and Higashikawa — inquiring about the status of the group.
“In the same way that there’s CASA, VISA, TAS, KASY and those sorts of groups, it would be nice to have an equivalent for Japanese and Japanese American students,” Tanaka said. “I hope if JASU gets started again, I could be part of a similarly cool and welcoming group with a slightly different geographical focus.”
When JASU returns, Tanaka said he is “definitely interested” in participating in the group’s events and lending a hand wherever help is needed.
Many from the Asian American Cultural Center and other Asian American student groups on campus have also expressed their support for JASU’s return.
“It is such an important part of our community, and I know the AACC and many from our community would support building up JASU again,” AACC Director and Yale College Assistant Dean Saveena Dhall said.
Similarly, Asian American Students Alliance Co-Moderator Peter Hwang ’18 told the News that meeting incoming Japanese American freshmen has led him to realize the importance of having an active cultural group like JASU.
“At Bulldog Days last year, I saw how important it was for Japanese American students that there was a group like JASU, where they can celebrate their shared backgrounds and explore their identities,” Hwang said.