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New program director for Asia House

by Catherine Mayhew

In an effort to redefine its position on campus and its goals as a program house, a group of student members of Asia House are in the process of creating a new program director position.

The new position, which organizers hope will be active next semester, will be a one-year, part-time, pilot position filled by current Shansi representative Brandon Ong, OC '95.

Asia House Community Resident Organizer (CRO) Sonya Fatah, a junior and one of the students pushing for the new program director, said the program director's purpose would be to define Asia House's goals.

In order to have a successful program director, Fatah said, the larger issue of what Asia House is needs to be defined. "I personally believe very strongly that we need an Asia House program director," she said.

Fatah said the original goal was to establish a new position that could help organize Asia House's programming since questions about Asia House's goals, political and cultural stance have been raised.

Fatah said Asia House was created to provide a support structure for students. "Political places on campus don't recognize Asia House as political," Fatah said. She said she thinks part of that perception comes from the house's lack of definition.

Asia House CRO Jennifer Feeley, junior and East Asian studies' liaison to Asia House, said she thinks the program director would be most helpful as a resource for all Asian and Asian-American students on campus.

Narges Kakalia, the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) intern for Asian and Asian- American students, said one of her hopes is that the person in the position can help organize the Asian and Asian-American student community, although she is not sure how much a part time director will be able to do.

Feeley said another reason residents of Asia House are working for a program director is because they do not feel supported by the College. "There's been a lot of different efforts for a lot of different reasons," Feeley said.

As the East Asian studies (EAS) liaison to the house, Feeley currently handles much of the programming for the house and said it is a hard job for a student to fulfill. "If there's a student in this position it's hard for people to listen to that person," she said.

"The six or seven of us who have worked on programs this year are exhausted," Fatah said.

Feeley also said that the amount of time and energy programming takes and what residents expect is difficult for a student to handle. "We find that the EAS liaison has too much pressure on them. We find that it is all too hard for a student to be in such a demanding position," Fatah said.

Asia House Resident Coordinator and House Manager Tisha Chung, a senior, said that from a staff point of view, programming is hard to juggle with other responsibilities. Chung said, "I would love to have a program director here. I don't think having a program director will solve all our problems, but I do think it will help out a lot."

According to James Dobbins, associate professor of religion and professor of Chinese and Japanese thought and religion, previous directors faced many of the same problems as the student liaison. When the position worked well, Dobbins said, it was due more to a complementary group of residents than programming.

Chung said the group is seeking input from groups that have dealt with a program director type of position. She said they are talking with the East Asian studies department, Shansi, MRC, Residential Life and faculty fellows from other project houses. While students are seeking the input of administrators and organizations, students are driving the changes. "Hopefully it will be up to the students for the most part," Chung said.

At a meeting on April 5 that was organized by Asia House staff, members of Shansi, Student Academic Services, Residential Life and Asian-American and other college faculty, created an ad-hoc task force. The task force includes representatives from Residential Life, East Asian studies, the MRC and Asia House. Shansi Director Debbie Jenkins is also on the committee.

Jenkins said the committee is "a group of interested parties, interested in Asia House and trying to figure out student concerns."

Jenkins said that despite help from different areas of the College she thinks the discussion is going to be student-driven and come from the residents of Asia House.

The MRC is also working informally to help define the role and future of the program director position. Kakalia said, "In an official capacity, we don't really have a role because things haven't been decided yet."

However, the MRC has formed a committee that will help define the job position and offer support for the program coordinator. Kakalia said the committee is helping to define the role because the manner in which it is formulated will effect the way the role develops in the future.

Assistant Dean of Students and Residential Life Yeworkwha Belachew has also set up a student committee that will work on defining the program director position.

Funding for the temporary position year will be provided by the Shansi Association. Fatah and Feeley put forward the funding proposal to Shansi. "All that Shansi has committed to is the coming year," Jenkins said.

After next year, funding will come from another, as of yet undefined source. Fatah said there are plans to take the idea to the President's Office, academic departments and Career Services for help.

Funding for current programming comes from Hall Council and East Asian studies. Dobbins said Asia House has a separate budget from East Asian studies, but the funding is overseen by the department and approved by the department director.

Dobbins said he believes programming should be limited in scale in order for it to be more successful. "Maybe there should be more of a clear definition of what programming should include," he said. With limited College financial resources, Dobbins said, funding is an issue. "In order to try to claim those scarce resources, we have to make a pretty compelling argument," he said.

The creation of a defined agenda and consequent funding will depend upon students and Asia House residents.

Fatah said that members of Asia House support the new position. The only concern is that the program director is fully aware of the challenges and political tensions within the position. She said that on campus, Asian and Asian-American positions are divided and that in this political division "[Asia House] is a very controversial dorm."

The East Asian Studies department developed out of Asia House, and as people became involved in Asian and Asian-American issues, the house was not a resource for them, Fatah said. She said she hopes that by the end of the year the house's charter can be redefined. "We don't want to be seen as a house that is just cultural," she said.

Dobbins said Asia House was established as a space for students to learn about topics that were not taught in the college curriculum. "Asia House over the years continued to play that role," he said. Now that there are more institutional resources open to students, "Asia House itself has had changing and diverse people coming to live there," Dobbins said.

Dobbins said that Asia House functions as a historical link and he has always seen Asia House as having both cultural and political interests. "My own feeling has always been that you have to make room for both of them," he said.

Chung said Asia House should cater to both political and cultural interests, and currently does, although finding a focus between the two can be difficult.

Chung said she believes negation of the house's cultural role would destroy what Asia House has offered to the campus in the past. "We have a political house, Third World House, and they're very good at what they do," Chung said. She said that there is no need for Asia House to try to take on a role already adopted by Third World House.

Asia House used to have non-student program directors. Dobbins said the non-student program director position was directly related to Residential Life and Services and was usually a one-year position. According to Dobbins, the job was often filled by Shansi representatives. Dobbins said some of the directors were more successful than others and he believes there was some frustration, as there is today, regarding student apathy and dependence on the director.

Fatah said it is hard to get all the residents of Asia House focused on a specific program. Chung said there is a group of students interested in the cultural issues and a group interested in political issues, and it is rare that they can coordinate into a joint focus or interest. Fatah attributes some of the problem to the manner in which Residential Life assigns rooms. Some people are assigned to Asia House who are not interested in Asia or Asian-American culture and issues, she said. Fatah said Asia House is "trying to work with housing and dining people about how that should be restructured."

Dobbins said he hoped that residents of the house will not be required to participate in programs and activities. "It legislates something that should come more spontaneously."


Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 22, April 25, 1997

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