Britton O'Daly

A group of more than two dozen students socialized with the incoming director of the Asian American Cultural Center, Joliana Yee, during a meet-and-greet event at the AACC on Monday afternoon.

The event allowed Yee to meet and converse with students in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Yee said the event on Monday marked her first prolonged interaction with students at the AACC since she visited the University for on-campus interviews on Aug. 15. Although she will formally begin her role as director in January 2018, Yee’s visit to campus on Monday served as an opportunity for her to begin meeting with Yale College Dean’s Office staff, in addition to members of the AACC community. Yee’s arrival on campus next year will mark the end of a period of leadership turmoil at the AACC that culminated in the forced resignation of the interim director last spring.

“The meet and greet yesterday was really great. It solidified my excitement around accepting the position and really it’s because of the students,” Yee said. “We had some good laughs, traded stories about what folks did over the summer, and people were all over the world doing really amazing things. This makes me all the more excited to get here in January and meet even more students and build lasting relationships.”

Yee emphasized that the “energy and passion” of the AACC members she met reaffirmed her desire to invest in the students and their future.

She added that she appreciated the students’ hospitality and was glad they had the opportunity to ask her questions about herself as she is a newcomer to their community.

The interim co-directors of the AACC, LiLi Johnson GRD ’19 and Courtney Sato GRD ’19, who helped coordinate the meet and greet, said they will step down from their roles on Oct. 7. According to Johnson, Sheraz Iqbal, the assistant director of the AACC, will be the only full-time staff member at the AACC from next week until Yee begins her work in January.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because we’ve worked here so long,” Sato said. “But we are excited for the new leadership and to get back to our studies because we are full-time graduate students in the American Studies program.”

Johnson said she and Sato, who were graduate assistants in the AACC for three years, took on the extra responsibility of directing the center out of a desire to “build something.”

Sato added that she and Johnson are going out with “a bang.” In their last week as co-directors they are helping oversee the Legacies of Incarceration symposium, a three-day event marking the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, a federal decree that set the groundwork for the World War II incarceration of Japanese-Americans. The Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration is co-sponsoring the symposium.

Students who attended the meet and greet said they enjoyed interacting with Yee and are glad to have a permanent director after a year of leadership turnover.

In August 2016, Saveena Dhall announced her departure after 16 years as the director of the AACC. Raymond Firmalino, who began as the AACC’s first assistant director in August, took on the role of interim director in March. But in April, after just eight months at Yale, Firmalino resigned from both positions amid criticism from students and calls for removal from AACC staff. Senior Associate Dean of Yale College Burgwell Howard then appointed graduate students and longtime AACC affiliates Sato and Johnson as co-interim directors.

Rita Wang ’19 said the center has been without a permanent director for three out of the eight semesters that she has been at Yale.

“There has been a lot of discussion about what to do within the Asian-American community after the election of Trump and after Next Yale, and it has been difficult without historical memory and a permanent leader of the center,” Wang said. “A lot of Asian-Americans are disenchanted with how disparate the community has been.”

Wang added that she is optimistic about Yee’s leadership and confident she will build a strong community within the AACC.

Garima Singh ’20 told the News she found Yee very friendly and fun to talk to. She added that although she is slightly worried “because of past experiences with new AACC leadership,” she came out of the meet and greet thinking that Yee is a great fit for the AACC community.

Sita Sunil ’19, a student staff member of the AACC, echoed Singh’s sentiments, saying she looks forward to working with Yee in the future.

“Yee is going to really bring a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “She has a lot of professional experience, experience in higher education and student affairs and particularly when it comes to Asian-American issues and Asian-American communities, I think she’s really strong in that area.”

The AACC was established in 1981.

Britton O’Daly | britton.odaly@yale.edu