Asian American Center History

Our Logo

graphic of a pink peony flower with words Asian American Center in the center

In 2018, students led a successful effort to expand the center beyond one room in Start House to all 3 floors, allowing greater space for the community. Our logo represents a pink peony, one of the symbols found in our 3rd floor “Mural Room” which was painted by students following the expansion. According to Annie Weng ‘22, “The AAC has become a home for me & I felt it important to make it feel like a home for future students as well. I've always loved flowers (especially peonies) & I know that coming ‘home’ to flowers or seeing flowers brings people a sense of joy & light into their days… So I felt it fitting to paint something I love, in a space that I love.” The logo was designed by Haruka Sato and was introduced in 2024 to commemorate over 40 years of student activism and community.

To learn more about the Mural Room, check out this Senior Spotlight video by TuftsNow highlighting Maria Fong, BFA21, and her experiences as a one of the students who contributed to painting the space.

History Resources

  • For a visual version of this timeline, please click here or visit the physical timeline along our center staircase!

    • 1890s - Following the admission of women to Tufts, Start House is the second women’s dormitory established. The house was named after Lena Start, who attempted to raise funds for a women’s residence a decade earlier.
    • 1969 -  The Afro-American Cultural Center opens, including a residential community and staff dedicated to supporting Black students. Now known as the Africana Center, it was the first of the centers now under the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion to be established.
    • 1973 - Start House becomes the Asian Culture House residential community.
    • 1976 - Dean Elizabeth Toupin creates and teaches Asian American Roots, the first credit-granting Asian American course on the East Coast. [At this time, there are only 88 Asian American students at Tufts.]
    • 1982 - Members of Zeta Psi fraternity yell racist remarks outside the Asian Culture House, prompting unrest across campus. [Asian American & Pacific Islander students make up only 4% (176) of the undergraduate population.]
    • 1983 - Advocacy by students, staff, and faculty culminates in the formation of the Asian Student Center, based on the first floor of Start House. A part-time support staff position is created with Leroy Morishita acting as the first Director.
    • 1984Gene Awakuni serves as the second part-time Director.
    • 1985Linell Yugawa becomes the third part-time Director.
    • 1988 - The Director position becomes a full-time, 12-month position. By this time, the center is referred to as the Asian American Center.
    • 1991 - The number of Asian American first-year students reaches 154[Asian American & Pacific Islanders make up 9.3% (408) of the undergraduate population, more than double the population of the previous decade.]
    • 2018 - As a result of student activism, the center expands to all three floors of Start House while the residential community moves to another location on campus.
    • 2019 - Linell Yugawa retires after 3 decades as Director. Aaron Parayno becomes the center’s second full-time Director.
    • 2020Emily Ding becomes the center’s Program Administrator, the first time that the center has a second full-time staff position.
    • 2021 - The first floor of the center is painted and re-furnished in celebration of reopening after over a year of remote operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [Asian American students now make up 15.5% (1028) of the undergraduate population.]
    • 2022Kali Guise joins as a Program Administrator, growing the center team to three full-time staff.
    • 2023 - The Asian American Center celebrates its 40th anniversary!
  • The Asian American Center was made possible through student-led activism and resistance.

    On March 12, 1982, during Racial Awareness Week, members of the Zeta Psi fraternity stood outside the Asian Culture House at 17 Latin Way, yelling anti-Asian hate speech at residents. Despite great dissension on campus about whether the students should even be punished, determined advocacy by students, staff, and faculty culminated in the addition of the Asian Student Center to the first floor of the residential building. This push for resources also led to the hiring of a staff person that would serve Asian students through coordinating programs, advising, and navigating university systems.

    For the majority of its 40-year history, the center remained inaccessible for non-residents as they could not enter without a resident or student worker answering the doorbell. In 2017, students fiercely advocated for the separation of the residential unit from the center’s building. Due to their actions, in Fall 2018 the residential unit was moved to a different space on campus. This allowed the Asian American Center to expand to all three floors of the building, providing students with far greater access to the center and more community gathering space. In the same academic year as this expansion, university leadership proposed plans to combine all identity-based centers into one space inside the Campus Center. Pushing back against these plans and emphasizing the importance of the Asian American Center’s physical existence on campus, students painted a mural on the third floor of the building in Spring 2019, establishing the well-loved “Mural Room.”

    The center’s history has also long intersected with the development of Asian American Studies curriculum on campus. In 1976, Dean Elizabeth Ahn Toupin first taught the “Asian American Roots” class. Covering literature and history, this class cemented Tufts as the first college on the East Coast to offer a credit-granting Asian American Studies course. Toupin was a major supporter of providing resources to address the unique challenges of Asian and American students on campus, including the establishment of the center. Likewise, students associated with the center have long supported the expansion of the Asian American Studies curriculum. It was not until 2012, after decades of campus activism, that an Asian American Studies minor was launched under the American Studies department. In 2014, the Consortium of Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora (RCD) was founded to link several ethnic studies programs. RCD only became an official department in 2019, allowing for more institutional support. However, advocacy for greater Asian American Studies resources, such as a major, still continues to this day.

  • The term “Asian American” was coined by University of California, Berkeley students Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee in 1968. Rejecting the term “Oriental” which was commonly used at the time, the students aimed to build solidarity among different Asian ethnic groups as they joined the Third World Liberation Front strikes. Leading the longest student strike in U.S. history, many student of color groups across several California colleges united to demand fairer resources at their schools, which birthed ethnic studies disciplines including Asian American Studies.

    Asian American students at Tufts began seeing changes in how they were defined a decade later, when the university shifted their terminology from “Oriental” to “Asian/Pacific Islander” in 1978. This was preceded by the establishment of the Asian Culture House as a residential space in 1973. In 1982, the Asian Student Center was created and was soon renamed as the Asian American Center due to an increase in Asian American students and the small number of international Asian students. The term “Asian American” was later adopted by Tufts as a whole in 1990.

    The nebulous and changing nature of identity terminology has historically posed difficulties for many at Tufts, including the South Asian community. Although the U.S. Census had introduced “Asian Indian” among its limited ethnic categories by 1980, Tufts long maintained outdated categorizations from the 1970 Census. South Asians were listed as “Caucasian” and were not formally defined as Asian Americans in university records until the class of ‘93. The center itself has also faced challenges with the inclusion of South Asian students. In 1999, the South Asian Political Action Committee advocated for a separate South Asian Center due to experiences that the Asian American Center only served East Asian students. According to the group’s interview with the Tufts Daily, there were only 10 South Asian students on campus during the center’s founding. By 1999, the South Asian population had increased to over 230, and today it is even larger.

    The Asian American Center has been an imperfect entity with its shortcomings, much like the term “Asian American” itself. At the center, we often ask questions about what it means to identify as Asian American today, knowing that there is not simply one answer. However, we reflect on our history, the political origins of “Asian American” identity, and current student experiences as we strive to create a more welcoming, inclusive space for students across the highly diverse Asian and Asian American community.

    It is in our mission to recognize the complex and intersecting identities that individuals in our community possess, while supporting students in their identity journey. Given this, we ask you:

    What does “Asian American” mean to you today?

    How do you envision your identity in relation to Asian America?

This video explores the history and legacy of the center through the lens 6 alumni from the 1990's to the 2020's.

The resources in this section were created in 2023 for an exhibition celebrating the Asian American Center's 40th anniversary. Thank you to the team of students and employees who supported the creation of the timeline, video, and informational text: Yuuki N., Jonathan L., Michelle Z., Anna Z., Arnav P., Kevin P., Angela Y., and Dzheveira K. Thank you also to An M. for support in digitizing the project. - Emily Ding, Associate Director

Media Features

This section highlights videos and articles related to our history and our impact on students.