Spring 1999

Report to the Rutgers University Senate
by the Equal Opportunity Committee
on An Asian Cultural Center

Introduction:  On June 9, 1995 the Rutgers Board of Governors endorsed President Lawrence's Multicultural Student Life Recommendations and charged the Administration with fully carrying them out.  These recommendations provided a multicultural blueprint which aims at improving the student life environment at Rutgers and sets out five goals, three of which are relevant to this report:

President Lawrence has written (http://mariner.rutgers.edu:80/cp/fl.html):  

Yet for Asian American students the reality seems quite different.  Asians form the largest ethnic or cultural group at Rutgers yet they can be called the "hidden minority."  Stereotyped as the "model minority," viewed as being good students without problems, Asian students suffer from a policy of benign neglect, rather than one of positive support.  There is no Asian American Studies program* nor Asian American courses; few Asian American writers and artists are invited to speak and perform on campus.  Asian American students have a physical presence on campus but they have no voice, no influence.  They have no sense of having a home here, no sense of belonging, no sense of being welcomed.  This report explores the arguments for establishing an Asian Cultural Center at New Brunswick with a satellite at Newark and recommends its establishment.

[*Rutgers-New Brunswick has an Asian (as distinguished from Asian American) studies program offering a minor in Asian Studies (heavily language oriented and overwhelmingly East Asian) and an interdisciplanary major in East Asian Languages and Area Studies. Only one or two courses are taught each semester specifically for these programs, with the balance being selected from an approved list offered by various departments. Rutgers-Newark also has a minor in Asian Studies which is oriented either toward the Near and Middle East or (with distance learning) toward China.]

Demography:  Asian/Pacific Island Americans make up the largest and most rapidly growing cultural/ethnic group among Rutgers students, as shown in the table below.  In addition, a large fraction of the 5.3% foreign students are Asian.  Statewide the number of Asian Americans is also growing rapidly with the US Census Bureau projecting a more than 109% increase to almost one million Asian Americans residing in New Jersey by the year 2025. 

1996 Enrollment at Rutgers University by Race*

CAMPUS American
Indian %
Asian % Black % Hispanic % White % Foreign % TOTAL
Camden 0.5 5.9 13.5 5.1 74/1 0.9 4,587
New Brunswick 0.3 15.2 8.0 7.5 63.0 5.9 33,862
Newark 0.2 14.7 19.5 15.4 45.0 5.2 9,363
Total: 0.3 14.2 10.8 8.8 60.5 5.3 47,812

[*Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, June 5, 1998.]

Other cultural centers at Rutgers:  Rutgers supports two cultural centers at New Brunswick -- The Paul Robeson Center located on the Busch campus and the Latino Center for Arts and Culture located on College Avenue.  University support for the centers consists of providing the buildings, three staff members for each center (director, associate or assistant to the director, and secretary) and a modest below-the-line budget.  The centers depend extensively on student help (work study, etc.) to operate.  The university also provides considerable additional funding in the form of matching funds but the large majority of programs are externally funded; 79% of the funding for programs sponsored by the Latino center come from outside the university.  Each center's mission focuses on three areas:

These are extremely ambitious, wide-ranging goals and are difficult if not impossible to achieve, given the relatively low level of staffing and modest operating budget plus the need to devote extensive time to grant proposal writing and outside fund raising.  In the area of student support and service the center directors are aware of the need not to duplicate services or to compete with the extensive existing "generic" programs offered by the various college student support staffs and see their role in this area as one of providing a referral service for the students with whom they are working.  The directors of the two centers strongly support the formation of an Asian Cultural Center and, indeed, have diverted time and resources from their missions to providing some of the backup support Asian American students need but do not receive from the university.  

Centers at Other Universities:  A number of universities have Asian studies programs.  A smaller number have co-curricular Asian centers.  These include:

Multiculturalism: One of the arguments frequently given against forming an Asian cultural center is that it would further Balkanize the university and work against the goals of multiculturalism: the idea of "encouraging people to get to know a variety of cultures rather than a single one, to stretch beyond the limitations of the tradition around them."   ["Multiculturalism as a Western Tradition" Samuel Fleischacker , Academe May-June 1996 pg 17.]   We do not accept this argument for several reasons:

An Asian Cultural Center at Rutgers:  In studying this issue the committee was surprised at the lack of depth and coherence in the university's offerings on topics dealing with Asia and Asian American culture.  In a world of increasingly global travel, communications and economics this seems strangely parochial for a university that aspires to national recognition.  Likewise, the lack of courses on Asian American culture or a program in Asian American studies, despite the demographics, reflects badly on our commitment to diversity.  The committee supports the ultimate goal of developing an Asian American studies program, but we are aware that although many students may take a course or two on some aspect of Asian American culture, few will pursue a major or even a minor in Asian American studies because of the overriding concern about majoring in a field where they believe they will find a job after graduation.

On the other hand, an Asian Cultural Center (ACC) has the potential for improving the intercultural educational experience of a large number of Asian students at Rutgers, of enhancing intercultural contact and understanding, and reaching out to the numerous Asian communities in New Jersey.  The Robeson and Latino centers give high priority to research and documentation of Black and Latino cultures.  While this priority is driven in part by the need to achieve creditability in a research university, it also addresses a major gap in the intellectual base of our university.  We feel that such research and documentation is a worthwhile and necessary goal for an ACC at Rutgers, along with the high priority goals of outreach and student support.  

The Asian communities in New Jersey are frequently isolated from much of the cultural and political life of New Jersey.  Like all immigrant communities they have many problems in adapting to American culture while maintaining their own heritage.  The other cultural centers have shown that they can play an important role in bringing the Black and Latino communities into contact with the university and in helping the communities address their problems.  Such outreach is surely an important collateral function of a state university.  The Latino center in particular has demonstrated that much grant money is available to fund these programs.  Programs directed toward the Asian community have an even greater potential for attracting funding from the Asian community and Asian or Asian American businesses.

An ACC can also help Asian American students develop a sense of community at Rutgers and to overcome the pervasive academic and cultural isolation that they experience.  The center might sponsor or cosponsor with Asian student groups programs such as a regular Asian film series, an Asian American Heritage month, an Asian craft festival, cultural workshops, lecture and performance series by Asian or Asian American personalities, scholars and artists and workshops on various ethnic issues.  It could also offer peer tutoring or counseling on issues specific to Asian American students and serve as a referral service to other counseling and tutoring services offered by the university.  The ACC should also work with the college and university counseling and tutoring centers to ensure that staff are available who understand and are sympathetic with the specific cultural problems that Asian American students need to deal with and to help them develop suitable programs.  Finally the ACC would work with the other centers and The Committee to Advance Our Common Purposes to promote a better understanding between all races and cultures.

Proposed structure:  Detailed recommendations for the structure of an ACC are beyond the scope of this report.  However, we do want to make a few suggestions:


1.  An Asian Cultural Center should be established at Rutgers-New Brunswick with a satellite center at Newark.

2.  The Center should have as a mission (listed without priority)

3.  University funding should be provided for a spring/fall Year 2000 series of lectures and performances by Asian American scholars and artists that will highlight the contributions of Asian Americans to American culture.

4.  A fund raising committee should be appointed to work with the Rutgers Foundation to build an endowment for the center.

5.  A planning committee including students and faculty should be appointed to prepare a plan for the Asian center including a mission statement, and recommendations for building location, staffing and budget with a target date of January 2001 for opening of the ACC.

Motion:  Let it be it resolved that

The Rutgers University Senate endorses the report and recommendations of the Equal Opportunity Committee on "An Asian Cultural Center" and recommends the formation of a center at New Brunswick with a satellite center at Newark.   [Note: The University Senate passed this resolution at its regular meeting on April 23, 1999.]

Submitted by the Senate Commitee on Equal Opportunity:

Joe Pifer, Rutgers (F) (Chair)
Kenneth Carlson, GSE (F)
Jesus Cornier, Engineering (S)
Donald Dickson, SSW (F)
Richard Lehman, Engineering (F)
Carlos Narvaez, FAS-NB (F)
Richard Norman, VP for Administration and Associate Treasurer (nonsenator) (Administrative Liaison)
Jan Oosting, Douglass (S)
Alexandra Pina, Livingston (S)
Ben Sifuentes-Jauregui, Douglass (S)
Omokehinde Soyinka, Nursing (S)
Aurea Vasconcelos, FAS-NB (F)
Pheroze Wadia, FASN (F)
Roselle Wilson, Vice President for Student Affairs (A)