This story was originally published in the Mar. 21 issue of Fourth Estate.
Beloved by students for his commitment to inclusion, former associate director for the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education has been removed from his position, inciting protest from student organizations.
In alliance with several organizations, the Asian-Pacific American Coalition (APAC) released a letter and petition demanding Dr. Shaoxian Yu’s reinstatement as associate director of ODIME. Within 30 minutes of being released on Mar. 4, the petition had 1,014 supporters.
University Life Vice President, Rose Pascarell and Vice President of Compliance, Diversity and Ethics, Julian Williams, met with members of APAC on Mar. 17. During the meeting, which lasted from 3 to 5 p.m., members of organizations advised by Yu protested on Merten Hall lawn. They were accompanied by other organizations who stood in solidarity with those affected by Yu’s separation.
Though Pascarell discussed increasing diversity among faculty during the meeting – one of the demands made by APAC – students who attended the meeting did not feel heard regarding Yu.
“As far as getting answers, we didn’t really get much. They just kept going in circles, not really answering our questions. It was very vague,” Junior Elaine Mangulabnan, president of the Filipino Cultural Association, said.
Pascarell did not respond to a request for comment.
In accordance with Mason’s policy on separation without cause for employees of over 10 years, as listed in the Administrative/Professional Faculty Handbook, Yu will be removed permanently in nine months. In the meantime, Yu was transferred to Mason INTO and instructed not to have further contact with students he advised in his former position.
The handbook states administrative/professional employees can be terminated “without cause” and further explains that separation “implies no fault or cause for the ending of appointment.” Separated employees must be notified within a certain time period dependent on their years of employment at Mason.
Yu declined an interview for fear of being removed immediately.
“I love Mason, and I love all Mason students. I don’t want to leave Mason and want to continue serving Mason students,” Yu said in an email.
Senior Sherika Callen, president of Kappa Phi Lambda, a multicultural sorority formerly advised by Yu, said her organization would not be where it is without Yu and ODIME.
“I think [ODIME staff] definitely want to show support, but they’re in the same position as Dr. Yu. And I think we have to remember that this is their job, this is how they make their livelihood, and they also have to think about themselves as well, as much as they love Dr. Yu,” Callen said.
Mangulabnan said some of APAC’s demands were inspired by the ones released by Concerned Mason Students in December 2015, which petitioned the administration on behalf of the black student community.
“We’re all going for the same cause — as in more inclusion — so we have looked at their list, and we did base some of our demands off of theirs because it is concerning that they sent their demands in December and nothing really has been done,” Mangulabnan said. “So besides asking for Dr. Yu’s position back, we’re kind of reinforcing that we really want these things to happen for our community.”
According to Kappa Phi Lambda Vice President, Christine Nguyen, junior, the similarities between the sets of demands were noted during the meeting.
“If our demands are so similar, why aren’t they met yet? Because they [administration] should have already been started on these demands…This is bigger than just the Asian community. This is the whole diverse community of Mason,” Nguyen said.
The desire for inclusion, rather than just diversity, is addressed in APAC’s letter to the administration.
”As an institution that views diversity as a treasure, your commitment to inclusion must be upheld,” the letter reads.
According to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, the Asian student population totaled 5,205 students in the fall of 2015. Although Asian students are the largest minority population on campus, creating an inclusive community takes more work than just presence, said junior Denise Diokno, vice president of APAC.
“They [administration] really are just concerned with the numbers. They can still call us [the Mason community] diverse because we are minorities, but it doesn’t really reflect on diversity,” Diokno said. “We could be here but not doing anything cultural. And I think that’s the only thing they’re concerned about, the statistics and the logistics; ’Oh, we have this amount of minorities.’ It doesn’t matter to them if we are doing cultural things, things that have to do with our heritage.”
Members of the organizations that worked closely with Yu attested to his dedication to inclusiveness.
“Dr. Yu is definitely one of the few faculty members on this campus that passionately works to create a better community for us. He truly cares about the students. And [it’s] not just Dr. Yu, but everyone in ODIME.” Callen said. “The administration is ignoring the benefits ODIME brings to students and what they truly do, and I think the administration is more talk on how they support students and ODIME puts in the work.”
Many students who attended the protest on behalf of Yu were impacted by him in their personal lives. Freshman Alvaro Veizaga said if it hadn’t been for Yu’s guidance with extracurriculars and academics, Veizaga may not be at Mason today.
“I just don’t understand why the whole separation without cause is a reason to get rid of somebody who’s so influential and kind and important to Mason, let alone ODIME, and all of us here who are gathered in support for him. He’s touched all of our lives in some way,” Veizaga said.
While Veizaga questioned Mason’s decision, sophomore Gabby Evidente, treasurer of the Filipino Cultural Association, went even further.
“I think it’s just extremely upsetting because as a sophomore, I’m growing more and more proud of Mason and I got to a point where I was like, ‘Wow, this is such a great place to be in,’ I never realized it,” Evidente said. “But once I learned about this issue, I was questioning that. Is this a great place to be in?”