KINGSTON, R.I. – April 28, 2023 – Jean Nsabumuremyi, director of the University of Rhode Island Multicultural Student Services Center, met with members of the Asian community earlier this year, including Professor Qing (Ken) Yang, the first Chinese professor at URI. They discussed concerns about a rise in anti-Asian sentiments since the outbreak of COVID-19. After careful consideration, they decided the best way to address the challenges was to highlight the contributions and diverse culture of Asians in the URI community.
In support of this effort, Yang established a scholarship award to promote an understanding of different cultures and advocate for the Asian population in the URI community. Nsabumuremyi was more than happy to work with Yang to promote cultural understanding and inclusivity.
The new awards will be presented at the start of an Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month event, celebrating the rich heritage and cultural contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. The new Asian Cultural Ambassador Award will recognize four URI students’ efforts to fight racism and hate crimes. Each awardee will receive $500.
URI’s celebration will take place in the Multicultural Center, 74 Lower College Road, Kingston, on Tuesday, May 2, from noon to 2 p.m. Doors open at 11:45 a.m. with the program starting at 12 p.m.
Tuesday’s program will also feature cultural performances, Asian cuisine by URI Dining Services, and provide a conversation with members of the Asian community on campus. Guest speakers state Senators Victoria Gu and Linda Ujifusa will share their stories and experiences as Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. The two are the first Asians elected to the Rhode Island state legislature; Gu represents South Kingstown and grew up near the University.
The award’s first winners will be announced Tuesday. The awards were funded by Yang, a longtime member of URI’s engineering department.
Since he joined URI 35 years ago, Yang says, URI has been a welcoming, friendly, and collegial community, embracing warmth and unity. He credits President Marc Parlange with working diligently to promote inclusivity and honor the diverse values of URI’s campus community. “I am truly fortunate to be part of such an exceptional community,” Yang says, “and feel a strong sense of gratitude toward this remarkable institution. It is my strong desire to give back to this wonderful community and contribute to the continued growth and success of URI’s traditions.”
“We have a considerable population of Asian American students, staff, and faculty at URI,” Yang notes, “whose contributions have significantly advanced the University’s educational and research missions. As Asian Americans, we should take pride in our cultural heritage and strive to further enhance this esteemed institution in the years to come.”
URI has more than a thousand students who identify as having Asian ancestry. Faculty and staff of Asian ancestry number 200, or 8% of the University workforce.
Yang says he hopes that the Asian Culture Ambassador Award will foster a deeper understanding of diverse cultures and advocate for the Asian population on the URI campus, saying, “After all, we are all Americans working together to achieve common goals.”
He says that the University’s Chinese Culture Club, which helped plan Tuesday’s event, has been an important part of his own URI experience. The club hosts cultural activities and aims to contribute to the inclusive and diverse culture of the URI community while creating a warm, friendly environment for Chinese-American faculty and staff. “This supportive atmosphere allows us to thrive and contribute to the University’s teaching and research objectives,” Yang says.
Many student groups have also been involved in planning this inaugural celebration, including the Asian Student Association, South Asian Student Association, and the Chinese Student Association. URI’s Chinese Language Flagship program served on the planning committee and URI Dining Services also sponsored the event.
Students who helped plan for the event say events like this send a message to all community members that the University values and supports its Asian and Pacific Islander population. Argha Goswami, a sophomore from India majoring in computer engineering and mathematics, founded URI’s South Asian Students Association.
“For many Asian and Pacific Islander students, it can be challenging to find a community that understands and shares their experiences,” she says. “By having events like this, we create a safe and inclusive space where students can connect and feel a sense of belonging.”
Those who wish to attend can RSVP using this form.
For more information, please contact MSSC director Jean Nsabumuremyi at firstname.lastname@example.org, 401-874-5829.