Why a Coordinated Effort for Asian Canadian Community Engagement?
UBC’s relationships with Asian Canadian communities require greater care and more advanced levels of cultural fluency than is generally understood. Parallel to the diligence and prudence shown in UBC’s Aboriginal Engagement Strategy, the ACCE initiative aims to improve the quality of engagement between UBC and local Asian Canadian communities.
Engaging Asian Canadian communities can be complex and challenging. Building trust and partnerships with Asian Canadian communities requires more than cultural sensitivity; it demands a greater investment of time to foster longer-term relationships, and a fluency in protocols and approaches that must be, and must be perceived to be, genuine. The networks within and between Asian Canadian communities are far reaching and well-established; moreover, these communities are highly influential politically and economically, able to mobilize quickly, are well-connected to mainstream and ethnic media. They also have lasting collective memories.
With these points in mind, UBC stakeholders must recognize that failure to engage Asian Canadian communities appropriately can damage UBC’s reputation in profound ways and negatively affect both new and existing relationships for many decades. Such harm is difficult to repair and costs the University significantly in terms of reputation, public image, missed opportunities for student learning, research and recruitment, lost donations, and impeded or blocked access to community knowledge and resources.
In 2007, UBC was petitioned to pay tribute to the Japanese Canadian students who were unable to complete their studies at UBC due to the 1942 internment. Members of Vancouver’s Japanese Canadian community went to the media and began what could have become a major public relations incident. As many Universities throughout the U.S. had already honoured Japanese American students with honorary degrees, UBC was perceived as being unresponsive and not living up to its commitment to human rights.
In 2012, UBC attempted to create a meaningful tribute for the 76 Japanese Canadian students who had been detained and exiled from British Columbia during WWII. UBC recognized the students through the conferral of degrees in a memorable ceremony that took place in May of that year. In addition, the University determined that it was important to create an ongoing legacy through the creation and preservation of the students’ oral histories, the digitization of a unique copy of a Japanese Canadian newspaper, and also the development of an Asian Canadian academic program. The University Japanese Canadian Tributes Committee, which handled the commemoration, included faculty and staff who had worked with the Japanese Canadian community on previous occasions.
While these individuals had previously worked on fruitful and meaningful projects with the community, working together as a group yielded far greater results. The Tributes Committee members were able to draw from each others’ expertise and their community networks and also pool financial resources in order to create a substantial impact. The Japanese Canadian Students of 1942 as well as other community members recognized these efforts by the University by later giving to a fund to ensure that these activities will be sustained into the future.
The ACCE hopes to build on this experience and aims to fulfil substantial, long-term achievements by creating a collaborative framework for Asian Canadian community engagement across the University.