Students earn more than a degree when linked with AAARCC and student groups

Imagine yourself at 18 and away from home for the first time, trying to navigate a huge research university, feeling alone in a sea of almost 50,000 students. Then imagine walking into a classroom and finding no one who looks like you or has your experiences. Then, imagine an oasis where “everybody knows your name.”

No, not the bar in the TV show “Cheers.” These homes-away-from-home are our cultural centers, such the Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center ( AAARCC). The hearts of the centers are their staffs and the student organizations they support.

AAARCC is more than a place where students hang out between classes. They enjoy musical performances and develop professionally thanks to speakers like those in the “Lunch and Learn” weekly series. They discover heritage and learn to appreciate others. They study, cook, and pick up food from the center’s garden and a campus food pantry. They find a supportive community and a safe place to land.

AAARCC is place where “you are truly welcomed by very giving people,” said Megha Shastry, who this fall will be a third-year student in general management. She was born in New Jersey but grew up in Bangalore, southern India. I already have tears in my eye thinking of them and their kindness.”

Undergraduate student Megha Shastry is speaking with AAARCC Guest Speaker, cookie artist Jasmine Cho.
Undergraduate student Megha Shastry is speaking with AAARCC Guest Speaker, cookie artist Jasmine Cho.

With a house at 915 Fifth St., AAARCC has a broad definition of Asian, wrapping its arms around students whose lives express intersectionality of Asian and Asian American identities. AAARCC’s mission, though, goes beyond supporting these students. As part of the Provost’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, AAARCC and all of Purdue’s cultural centers welcome everyone, no matter background or heritage, who wants to build connections and enrich their knowledge of others.

AAARCC works closely with the Asian Student Union Board ( ASUB ), the umbrella for about 20 Asian-interest student organizations. ASUB and AAARCC not only collaborate to promote events but also help the groups find resources and connect with each other.

“Thanks to AAARCC’s help, we can hold huge events that are fun and enriching at same time,” said Jackie Zhou, outgoing president of ASUB. She was born in Wuhan, China, and moved to West Lafayette at age 9. She is graduating with a degree in microbiology. “Even when I don’t see them, they reach out to me, always taking the initiative to ask how I am personally and how things are going, making sure I’m getting the help I need.”

Partnership and collaboration are key to the center and student organization events, AAARCC Director Pamela Sari said.

For example, ASUB and several other groups joined forces to create a four-hour Lunar New Year celebration, including the colorful Lion Dance. The Purdue Filipino Association (PFA), some 60 students strong, is among the largest Asian student groups and perhaps best known for its annual cultural production worthy of Elliott Hall of Music. The Mr. and Miss Asia Pageants were sponsored by ASUB and groups representing Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, and the Filipino communities.

Students Mariam Alyakoob and May Eltouny were leading a session of Lunch and Learn Series at the AAARCC.
Students Mariam Alyakoob and May Eltouny were leading a session of Lunch and Learn Series at the AAARCC..

AAARCC and two other groups, Cricket and Social Outreach and Kappa Pi Beta, an Asian-interest fraternity, sponsored Holi, a colorful Hindu festival to welcome spring. The festival is energized by music and colored by students lofting rainbows of neon colored powder in the air— and often at each other. 

And what would cultural events be without food, a big draw at any event? Attendees at ASUB’s Taste of Asia and Taiwanese-inspired Night Market organized by student organization Asian American Association (AAA) on Memorial Mall tasted traditional dishes, from sushi and bubble tea to gulab jamun, while watching performances and playing games.

To close out the semester, the AAARCC and ASUB joined forces to showcase their diverse talents for InspirAsian, a celebration in honor of graduates and student leaders.

The staff members of the AAARCC actively serve as advisors and mentors to some of these organizations. AAARCC Program Administrator Manabu Taketani, who advises six student groups, recently received the national Daniello Balón Mentoring Award from the Asian Pacific American Network. The center’s support work during the pandemic also earned it the Good Samaritan Project award. 

For students, the reward is “self-discovery.” If students in-the-know had one wish, though, it is that they would have known about AAARCC and these groups sooner.

Take graduate student Pranav Mohan, who was born in Lucknow in northern India, went to high school in Singapore and did his undergraduate work at the University of Oklahoma. He said that when he arrived on the Purdue campus he wasn’t made aware of the AAARCC as a resource but is glad that he knows now. This May he will graduate with master’s degree in mechanical engineering and stay on for a PhD. He plans to help other graduate students learn about the center.

Student say they were introduced to the cultural centers during Boiler Gold Rush and by faculty and advisors. But they should be highlighted more, they said, and students should be actively encouraged to get involved in the groups that are geared to their backgrounds. Given that Purdue students will be graduating into an interconnected world, an appreciation for other cultures will be critical.

Utilizing these resources at the Cultural Centers and student organizations may be key to obtaining this intercultural skill, as fourth-year neurobiology major Nina Fujii from Greenwood, Ind., a regular visitor to the AAARCC, said, “I am getting so much more out of these years at Purdue than just a degree.”


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