When Blong Yang began working at Century College in 1979 (known back then as Lakewood Community College) there were a total of four Asians in the entire school.
“During the first few years of my employment here, we had cultural conflicts on a regular basis,” recalls Yang, who at the time was helping to develop an ESL program at the school. “That’s why we created the Asian Student Association.”
Jump 30 years later and Asians comprise the largest population group outside of white students at Century, playing a crucial role in the school’s future.
With over 1,200 Asian students currently enrolled at Century (95% plus are estimated to be of Hmong ethnicity), there is speculation that Century might carry the distinction of having more Hmong students than any other school in America.
These numbers do not surprise Yang, who now holds the position of Admissions Adviser.
“Century has always been a great place for young people to begin their higher education,” Yang observes. “And with our challenging economy, it makes more sense than ever to attend a school like this.”
He points out how he has seen a good number of Hmong Century graduates go on to do marvelous things in the community: Business owners, teachers, even medical doctors.
“That’s why we felt it was so important to recognize these great accomplishments with our annual Asian Alumni Reunion Banquet in which we honor alumni with ‘Hall of Fame’ awards!”
However, not all is perfect at Century, points out Pakou Vang who currently holds the position of acting academic dean.
“Like many other institutions of higher education, Century struggles with balancing the students of color versus staff of color ratio,” Vang notes after revealing that she is the lone faculty member who is Hmong at Century. “But I can assure you, Century is committed to working hard to recruit and retain a diverse staff and faculty.”
An instructor of communications for over six years at Century, Vang was hired on an interim basis as academic dean where she relishes the role of making decisions that will impact Century from the top-down.
A self described go-getter, Vang is proud to have been at the table to help direct Century’s upcoming facilities make-over which will take place over the next few years. In terms of diversity issues, Vang hopes that her role as academic dean will continue past the interim so that she can continue working with administrators to improve the situation.
“I am especially proud that Century will be using Kao Kalia Yang’s book, The Late Homecomer, next year as the ‘Common Book’,” Vang exudes. “That means all staff and most students will be required to read about the Hmong experience. I think that’s a great step towards the right direction!”
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