For Akshat Gupta working with the Asian Culture Center is all about sharing stories. A graduate student in the Kelley School of Business at IU Bloomington, Gupta began volunteering with the Asian Culture Center as a producer on the center’s Hearabouts radio show. Broadcast in partnership with radio station WFHB, Hearabouts began as a student-proposed initiative to bring powerful stories of Asian American experiences in the Midwest to a wider audience. When Gupta heard a student presentation at the Asian Culture Center about discriminatory enrollment practices against Japanese Americans at Indiana University in the 1940’s, he knew he had found the perfect topic.
“About five minutes in, I knew I had to interview him,” Gupta said. “I knew that I wanted that interview to air, and for that voice to be heard by hundreds, possibly thousands, in the south-central Indiana community.”
Gupta’s work is just one example of the powerful student-led work facilitated by the Asian Culture Center, often referred to as the ACC. A cultural center supported by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs on the IU Bloomington campus, the ACC has remained dedicated to increasing inclusion of and engagement with Asian and Asian American communities since its founding in 1998. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, one of the greatest testaments to the power of the Asian Culture Center’s work is the experiences of the students it has helped guide to success.
The dream of the Asian Culture Center first began in 1988, when Asian American students at IU Bloomington began advocating for a cultural center that could act as a home for the Asian and Asian American communities. Students, faculty, and staff involved with the initiative found success. After a decade of work, the Asian Culture Center opened in October 1998, making it the first cultural center of its kind in the Midwest.
In the two decades since, the Asian Culture Center has worked to implement measures that support and build unity among Asian and Asian American communities, fostering broader awareness of issues that affect these communities in the process. The center is not only limited to Asian American students, but welcomes anyone interested to learn more about the history and culture of Asian and Asian American communities.
Joyce Lam is well acquainted with these efforts. A junior studying philosophy from the Indianapolis area, Lam has worked with Gupta and the ACC to help produce the Hearabouts radio program. As an engineer on Hearabouts, Lam has had the opportunity to hear important perspectives of Asian Americans in the community and bring them to a wider audience. Doing so, she said, has been one of her most powerful experiences with the ACC. “Being able to be part of that process means a great deal to me,” Lam said.
The Asian Culture Center also impacts the community through its supporting role. When Asian American members of the community face difficulties on campus, the Asian Culture Center works to connect them with the resources necessary to remedy the situation. Whether this means helping a student in crisis or providing a student with professional development opportunities, the Asian Culture Center takes a holistic approach to ensure that the community it serves is able to succeed.
Other programs, such as the Joon Park Student Leadership Experience Scholarship, memorialize the connection between activism and philanthropy that make centers like the ACC possible. Named in honor of Joon Park, who campaigned for the ACC’s creation as a student and has gone on to become a prominent donor to the university, the scholarship is awarded to one undergraduate a year to pursue projects related to the kind of community engagement and activism that created the ACC in the first place.
Much of the work at the Asian Culture Center is implemented by Melanie Castillo-Cullather, the director of the ACC, and Program Associate Sarah Moon Stamey, both of whom coordinate the center’s activities.
“Any time we have something to offer, whether it be a program or a service, we have the student’s welfare in mind, and how that program or service can really make a difference in a person’s life,” said Castillo-Cullather.
One student who has benefitted from this work is Willie Maung, a sophomore studying biology from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Searching for a job on campus, Maung applied to a position at the Asian Culture Center. Having never gone through a job interview before, he found himself stressed and nervous beforehand. However, from the moment he sat down for the interview, Castillo-Cullather and Stamey helped ensure that he felt welcomed and supported.
“It’s become a second home to me. Sarah and Melanie, aside from being my bosses, also care for their students. We’re like a family,” Maung said.
This culture of support has resulted in a particularly strong series of relationships surrounding the ACC - relationships that, for many students, make the center feel like a home away from home. Sara Zaheer, a 2017 graduate and former student body president of Indiana University, noticed this strong sense of community throughout her experiences at the ACC as an undergraduate.
“It is weird to think that the ACC is only 20 years old, because it feels like they’ve built the kind of community you’d expect after multiple decades, not just two,” Zaheer said. “They’re that good at what they do, that it feels like they’ve always been a part of IU.”