‘A true pioneer in college athletics’: Vicky Chun, the first Asian American woman to serve as DI Athletic Director
Chun, the first Asian American woman to serve as an NCAA Division I Director of Athletics, works to support Asian American and Pacific Islander communities within college athletics.
When Colgate University announced Victoria M. “Vicky” Chun as their newest athletic director in 2012, she thought she was ready for any question that could be thrown her way during her first press conference. But one question caught her off guard.
“How do you feel being the first female AD at Colgate?” Chun recalled being asked at the conference.
“I think I remember answering ‘great,’” Chun said. “I was so in tune with the responsibilities of the job that I didn’t think about being the first female director of athletics at Colgate or the first female Asian NCAA Division I Director of Athletics in the country.”
Nicci Hays Fort, who was a member of the Colgate search committee that hired Chun and the Raiders’ women’s basketball coach at the time, told the Utica Observer-Dispatch that it was “inspiring” to see Colgate hire its first female athletic director, but that the job was not simply handed to Chun, who was interim athletic director at the time. Chun “got out and won the job,” Hays Fort said.
In 2018, Chun took over as Yale’s director of athletics, where she became both the first Asian American and the first woman to lead the Bulldogs’ athletic department.
Nine years on from that first Colgate press conference, Chun has put much more thought into being an Asian American woman at her position within collegiate athletics.
“It’s an honor to be the first but I certainly don’t want to be the last,” Chun said. “I do feel an extra sense of responsibility so that other women and minorities get opportunities in the future.”
‘No one would think I was the coach or administrator’
Growing up playing volleyball in Los Angeles, Chun was surrounded by what she described as a “diverse group of student-athletes.” Yet, as she continued to progress in the sport, the people around Chun began to look less and less like her. Her parents — both immigrants from China — “scratched their heads” at having to pay for their daughter to play club volleyball, while other Asian American friends slowly started to drift away from sports and went to other extracurricular activities.
Chun went on to enroll in Colgate University to play as a setter for its volleyball team, winning Patriot League Player of the Year in 1991. A two-year captain for the Raiders, she is also a member of the Patriot League All-Decade Team for the 1990s. Later, as head coach of her alma mater’s volleyball team — a position she held from 1994 to 1997 — she led her squad to two conference championships and was named Patriot League Coach of the Year in 1996. Chun is still the only person to win both Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors at the conference level in NCAA Division I history.
Yet even with these accolades, Chun said it was still her ethnicity, not her reputation, that preceded her.
“As I got into coaching and administration, if we walked into a venue, or any public place, no one would think I was the coach or administrator,” Chun told the News. “I got called all kinds of names … I would often have kids squint their eyes or pull their eyes because I’m Asian.”
“I often got asked where I am from,” she added. “And people didn’t like it when I answered California.”
‘We have a responsibility … [to] celebrate our great heritage’
The Blue and White’s director of athletics has built an “incredible reputation” during her time in the industry, according to Washington State University Athletic Director Pat Chun.
“[Vicky] is someone that I’ve always looked upon as a true pioneer in college athletics,” Pat Chun said during a phone interview with the News.
Pat Chun, who is the first Asian American to serve as athletic director for a Power 5 conference school, explained that when the two were first starting out as athletic administrators, there were much fewer Asian Americans in similar positions than now. He said an “odd happenstance” arose as they both attended national events: he and Vicky share a last name.
The two longtime friends often use that fact to their comedic advantage.
“We’d actually tell people we’re cousins, just to be funny,” Pat Chun — who in fact is not related to Vicky — shared with the News.
The two athletic directors, along with America East Conference commissioner Amy Huchthausen, have been meeting for years to discuss how best to support Asian American and Pacific Islander administrators and coaches, they said.
Amid the recent rise in hate crimes and acts of discrimination committed against people of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, the three realized how important it is to come together during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month — celebrated annually during the month of May — to support their community in collegiate sports.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility, because of where we sit in college athletics, to make sure that we celebrate our great heritage but also that we make sure that college athletic administrators, student-athletes, coaches [and] staff all feel supported,” Pat Chun said.
Vicky Chun told the News that they are working to establish the American Asian Pacific Islander Athletic Alliance in an effort to support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in college athletics. Details regarding the initiative will become clearer as the three continue to meet and discuss the issues, but the broad goal is to build a network and to “provide a community.”
“This has been an idea that I think we’ve all thought about in the past,” Pat Chun said. “But I think because of where we’re at as a society right now, it’s probably more important of a time than ever to make sure that we’re doing something proactively to support our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in college athletics.”
‘Making change happen’
“As a female minority, I’m used to being judged more critically,” Vicky Chun said. “I know in general I will not get the benefit of the doubt like some of my white male colleagues. It just makes me work harder.”
While prejudices continue to exist, Chun lauded athletics for serving as a training ground for people of diverse backgrounds to come together and “work successfully in a teamwork setting.”
And “until there are more women and minorities in leadership roles” throughout athletic administrations, the 2010 FCS Division National Administrator of the Year has come to accept that she and other upper-level administrators from underrepresented backgrounds must support each other and create more job opportunities for their communities.
“I think for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders specifically, like any underrepresented group there are stereotypes and misconceptions that you just have to break through and demystify,” Pat Chun said. “When you look around and there aren’t a lot of people that look like you, you’re going to have to break some stereotypes. People like Vicky and Amy Huchthausen are two people I have always admired and looked up to as people that have done that.”
Within Yale Athletics, Vicky Chun is working to increase multicultural representation throughout her department. The department established a Social Justice and Inclusion working group, which is focused on “education, recruitment, retention, connection and community engagement.” She lauded the working group, and the department as a whole, for embracing their work and “making change happen.”
The athletic department also works in partnership with the Yale Asian American Cultural Center, as well as the Asian Network at Yale, to provide spaces of “inclusion, connection and empowerment for the Asian community.”
Chun said that to address the recent increase in racism against Asian American communities, it is important to create opportunities to “unite, support and inspire.”
“It saddens me to see the attacks on the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community,” Vicky Chun said, referring to the recent violence targeted at AAPI communities and other rhetoric that blames Asian people for spreading COVID-19. “We are concerned for our own welfare, however it is our parents and grandparents’ safety that gives us the most concern. Words like ‘Kung Flu’ or ‘Chinese Virus’ from public leaders and the general public has been harmful to the AAPI community.”
Chelsea Kung ’23, new president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and member of the tennis team, told the News that after the Atlanta shootings, Vicky Chun hosted a town hall via Zoom with Yale’s Asian American and Pacific Islander student-athletes, coaches and staff, as well as Grace Kao, professor of sociology and Ethnicity, Race and Migration.
“Throughout the entire town hall, the one thing that resonated most with me was the blatant support AD Chun and the rest of the faculty on the call had for us,” Kung wrote in an email to the News. “Each professor, coach, as well as Vicky posted their contact information in the chat for all the students to take and reach out to for any instance.”
Kung noted that Chun’s ongoing support for the Yale Bulldogs for Change, a student-athlete led social justice team, has helped create a more “established” community for Asian American and Pacific Islander student-athletes.
“Connecting with other groups is important,” Chun added. “We are all fighting for and supporting the same philosophy and ideas.”
Vicky Chun is in her third year as director of athletics at Yale, a role she assumed on July 1, 2018.