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Okada House and the Asian American Experience at Stanford

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Okada House exterior wall

September 8, 2022
Presenters: Jacob Wang, ’72; Gloria Saito, ’73; Lee Salisbury, ’73; Edwin Carlos, ’20
Moderator: Leslie Kim, ’98

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Asian and Asian American students have been a part of Stanford history since the inaugural class in 1891. The Japanese Students Association and the Chinese Students Association were founded in the early 1900s as the first Asian and Asian American voluntary student organizations on campus. Despite this early history, racial tensions and marginalization were experienced by many of these students, resulting in the establishment of the Japanese Clubhouse (1916) and the Chinese Clubhouse (1919) as safe residences for students of Asian descent.

In the 1960s and 1970s, during the period of the Civil Rights Movement, Asian American students began to organize and advocate for their needs. The Asian American Student Alliance, which later became the Stanford Students Coordinating Committee and now the Asian American Students' Association, formed in 1969. That same year, inspired by Black Student Union protests following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Asian American students started a petition for Asian American Studies.

An Asian American theme dorm in Junipero (which moved to Madera and then was later renamed Okada House in 1979 after John Okada) was established in 1971 to create community and center the experiences of what was then still a very small and primarily first-generation Asian American student population. It also paved the way for other ethnic themed housing on campus, offering a place to explore and celebrate the diversity of Asian American peoples, cultures, and languages in a historical and contemporary context, while welcoming residents of all backgrounds and cultures. Other Asian student communities and programs followed, including the Teahouse, the Asian American New Student Orientation Committee, the Asian American Activities Center, and many more.

The panelists look back at the beginnings of this important cultural center and discuss how the formation of Okada House laid the foundation for residential education at Stanford to promote the concepts of inclusivity, diversity and equity.