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History of Asian Americans at Yale

The story of the Asian Community at Yale starts in 1850 with Yung Wing, who became the first Chinese student to enroll in an American university.  After graduating in 1854, Yung went on to a distinguished career as a diplomat and businessman.  He was a founder of the Chinese Educational Mission, which sponsored 120 Chinese students to study science and engineering at colleges in the Northeast during the 1870s.

Since those beginnings, the Asian and Asian American population at Yale has grown to be the vibrant community it is today.  There have been many milestones along the way. Key among them:

  • Don Nakanishi ‘71 (1949 - 2016) formed the Asian American Student Association (AASA), the first cultural organization for Asian students.  At the time, there were approximately 50 Asian students amongst an undergraduate population of 4600.  Don’s aspiration was for a place for Asian students to come together to form political alliances and combat isolation.  His inspiration came from observing and allying with the African American and Mexican American students at Yale who were also actively organizing at that time. Don is recognized for pioneering the field of Asian American studies in the US.

  • In 1969, AASA was formed with 35 students.  One of its first initiatives was to lobby Yale to broaden its commitment to minority communities beyond African American students and admit more Asian American students from low-income families to Yale.  Yale became one of the first universities to include Asian Americans in its affirmative action program.

  • In 1978, AASA had grown but, with two small rooms in the basement of Bingham Hall on Old Campus, it run out of space.  Nick Chen ‘79 organizes a meeting with President Bart Giamatti to ask for a center for AASA.

  • In 1981, the dream of having a space for Asian American students at Yale was finally realized.  The Asian American Cultural Center (AACC) opened on 295 Crown Street.  Assistant Dean Dr. Maria Brumell served as its founding director.

  • In a 1993 study, The Asian American Studies Task Force find that an overwhelming number of students want more academic commitment in Asian students.  This eventually led to the establishment of the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration (ERM) program in 1997.

  • In April 2014, the first Asian Alumni Reunion was held at Yale.  Keynote speakers included Indra Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo), playwright David Henry Hwang, Gary Locke (former governor of Washington), and composer Vijay Iyer.  Held on the 160th anniversary of Yung Wing’s graduation, 300 alumni gathered at Yale for a weekend of panel discussions, cultural events, and a reception dinner.

  • The Asian American Studies Conference was held in 2015.  This collaboration between the AACC and Yale Asian American Task Force emphasizes the broadening scope of Asian studies to include visual culture, art, music, and disability studies

History of Asian Americans

Mission of AAAYA


The Association of Asian American Yale Alumni (AAAYA) is a volunteer-run, membership based, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides a vehicle for Yale University alumni to promote the civic participation, leadership and service of Asian Americans and Asians at Yale and in the broader society.

We pursue our mission by developing programs on campus and in communities in need through the following types of activities:

  • Support diversity and equal opportunity at Yale University

  • Strengthen student-alumni programs such as student externships and Life-after-Yale

  • Strengthen the leadership role and contributions of Asian American students and alumni at Yale and in society

  • Advocate for and support Asian American studies at Yale

  • Support student programs such as fellowships, internships, scholarships, prizes & volunteer opportunities

  • Support the Yale Asian American Cultural Center and its programs and initiatives

  • Support Asian American and other underserved communities through funded internships & other programs

  • Help further Yale’s mission and place in the world

  • Convene gatherings and conferences addressing issues of interest and concern to Alumni of Asian descent

  • Strengthen ties with other Yale alumni groups, faculty and outstanding Asian American Yale alumni

  • Having fun and bringing the community together with happy hours, meet ups, and picnics

Meet The Board

Austin Baik.jpg
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Yale College, B.A.

 Political Science

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Yale College, B.S., Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

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Yale College, B.A., Environmental Studies

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Yale College, B.A.

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Tao Leigh
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Graduate School of Art and Science, PhD, History

Gaurav Khanna
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Yale College, B.S. Physics

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Yale College, B.S., Psychology

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Yale College, B.A.


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Yale College, B.A., Chemistry & Political Science

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Yale College, B.S. Biology

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Yale College, B.S. Chemical Engineering

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Yale College, B.A.

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Omiya (大宮華)
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Yale College, B.A.

Fine Arts

Rita Pin Ahrens
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Yale College, B.A., Psychology

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Yale College, B.A.

Applied Mathematics

Meet the Board
Contact Us
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Who can join AAAYA?
AAAYA is open to Yale alumni of all schools and all ethnic/cultural backgrounds.


Where is AAAYA? Is it nationwide?
AAAYA is a nationwide organization, but most of its activities are concentrated in major metro areas with large numbers of Asian American Yale alumni. We currently have local chapters in New York, Northern California (San Francisco), Southern California (Los Angeles), and Chicago.  We’re also organizing in Washington, DC., and Boston.

How can I get involved?
Sign up if you’re not already on our mailing list to learn about upcoming events. And we’re always looking for volunteers to help organize activities, upgrade our website, host spring break externships, connect us with nonprofit organizations, etc. If you’re interested in volunteering, indicate it when you sign up, or contact us and let us know.


What if I don’t live in one of those cities? How can I get involved?
There are still plenty of opportunities to get involved. Contact us to learn more.


Are there membership dues?
No, though we do occasionally raise funds to support internships for Yale undergrads with Asian community organizations as well as other activities.

Contact Us

Have more questions?

Interested in organizing an event?

Would you like to co-sponsor an event with AAAYA? 

Please submit a contact request.

Thanks for submitting!

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