YaleWomen interviews Yale’s new Director of the Asian American Cultural Center Joliana Yee

YaleWomen interviews Joliana Yee, the new Director of the Asian American Cultural Center (AACC), who assumes her position in January.


Q.How do you view your role as Director of the Asian American Cultural Center (AACC)?

A.As Assistant Dean of Yale College Student Engagement and Director of the AACC, I view my role as a unique opportunity to build a strong sense of community among and advocate for the diverse needs of students within the Asian and Asian American community in a manner that uplifts all marginalized populations on campus. Being able to work alongside three other strong women who are at the helm of leadership at the Afro-American, La Casa and Native American Cultural Centers respectively, to foster an inclusive and equitable campus environment, is a privilege I look forward to. In the current sociopolitical climate of this country, I am inspired by the words of Yuri Kochiyama to utilize my role at the AACC to build bridges across differences, not walls.   

Q.What is your vision for the AACC?  What initiatives are planned for the AACC and how do you plan to integrate AACC into campus life? 

A.My vision for the AACC is first and foremost for it to be student-centered; a space that is for the students and by the students, as they are the heart of the center. I also hope for the AACC to become a space where the Asian and Asian American identity can be developed and understood in a manner that embraces intersectionality because all forms of inequity are connected. I plan to spend my first few weeks on campus establishing meaningful connections with student leaders, campus partners, as well as alums to gather their input and get a clearer sense of what students are feeling energy around before planning any major initiatives. From my experience, I have learned that for any initiative to be successful you want as many people to know that their voice is considered in the process. Assistant Director, Sheraz Iqbal, and the AACC staff have already been working hard to successfully integrate the AACC into campus life. I look forward to supporting their continued efforts and taking it to new heights.

Q.What are some of the most important issues facing Asian Americans today in higher education and how does the AACC hope to address these issues? 

A.There are a whole host of important issues that face the Asian American community today and I believe that is just reflective of the diversity within the Asian American community. I think the most pressing issues facing Asian Americans in higher education are the persistent invisibility of Asian Americans in leadership and a misguided fear that is propelling select groups within the Asian American community to rally behind anti-affirmative action movements across the country. It is my hope that the AACC will provide educational programs that will raise up the next generation of critically conscious Asian American leaders.

Q.You grew up in Malaysia and were a first generation graduate student – can you talk a little about your background and your experience as an international student?  How has your experiences in American higher education shaped your views of Asian Americans in higher education?  

A.Great question! I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the first 19 years of my life and loved every moment of it. I am the youngest of three daughters whom my parents, Franco Yee and Lily Phuah worked tirelessly to love, support and provide opportunities for that they never had. I came to the US in 2006 in pursuit of my undergraduate degree in Political Science and Economics at Miami University (OH). Growing up as a Chinese woman in Malaysia significantly shaped my lived experiences, being a member of an ethnically/racially minoritized group helped prepare me to navigate my re-racialization experiences as an Asian person in the US. Attending and working at higher education institutions in the Midwest and New England regions developed my appreciation for the unique Asian American history that shapes the context of higher education today. That understanding will continue to inform my practice and research pursuits as a scholar-practitioner moving forward. 

Q.Anything else you would like to share with us? 

A. Fun fact: Connecticut is the state I have spent the most number of years living in for the duration of my time in the US and I am excited to return! 


Stephanie Yu Lim ’00

Chair, Communications Content Committee

Photo courtesy of Joliana Yee.

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