Jan. 30-Feb. 12, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 2
Back Issues
Darden to run ethics institute
First Lady of Virginia, Lisa Collis, a leader in public service
Facilities focus of BOV’s Student Affairs meeting
Headlines @ U.Va.
Undergrad wins Mitchell Scholarship
Online COMPASS makes room reservations easy
Humans began altering global climate thousands of years ago
Xiaoming ‘Peter’ Yu
Revisiting Racial Diversity
2004 Black History Month Calendar of Events
Stem-cell researcher finds unusual ally in GOP leader
Can the spam: E-mail filter weeds out those unwanted messages
Collage glues together numerous pespectives
What’s a Didjeridu?
Mini-med school accepting applications until Feb. 27
Students drive real estate market
Xiaoming ‘Peter’ Yu
An ambassador of diversity in the Office of African-American Affairs
Peter Yu

By Anne Bromley

Imagine a college professor asking a student to change his name — that’s what happened to Xiaoming Yu when he attended the University of Exeter in Great Britain. The professor found the Chinese names of his 25 new students too difficult to pronounce. Yu, now assistant dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, chose the name “Peter,” he said, because one of the Chinese meanings of “yu” is fish and that made him think of St. Peter, the fisherman.

Xiaoming Yu put the English name away when he came to the Curry School’s doctoral program in social foundations to study comparative and international education in 1986, but 10 years later, he dusted it off and decided “Peter” would be less intimidating for students coming to him for advice.

Yu returned to the University in 1996 at a time when the administration and students were considering the idea of changing or expanding the Office of African-American Affairs to become a multicultural center.

Although that didn’t end up happening, OAAA programs have become more inclusive, and staff from the Dean of Students office are dedicated to advising other minority groups. Yu’s job duties also have grown recently: under the separate Virginia 2020 initiative to expand international activities, he has become the coordinator of a summer program for U.Va. students in his native city of Shanghai.

Yu continues to orchestrate the successful faculty-student mentoring program that has been one of his primary duties for several years. Faculty who want to participate don’t have to be African-American. The program comprises 300 faculty members, with about 125 of them active at a time, and 95 students this year. Yu tries to match faculty members and students based on career interests and other requests.

Yu himself advises third-year African-American students, with some 250 of them under his wing. He passes along information about social activities, keeps them informed of pertinent academic opportunities and often lends an ear.

“I’m someone they can talk to if they’re having problems. I want to keep them feeling supported and encouraged,” he said.

The fact that students who walk into his office see a dean who is not African-American but Asian may be surprising to them at first, but Yu thinks there are benefits.

“In terms of diversity, it’s a great lesson. I learn a lot from the students about their African-American experiences, and I hope they learn something from me.”

For him the difference is not a problem.

“People talk about having different views and approaches, but if we address the race issue in the U.S. more deeply, more carefully, at the core of the problem is race in terms of black and white. If we talk about diversity without looking at black-white issues, we won’t get to the point,” he said. Things like the October 2002 blackface incident are manifestations of deeper issues, he said.

International students are another group in the University community who need more attention, said Yu.

“We need to reach out to them.” Diversity might be an unknown concept to them, he said, but it’s part of their education and the University’s responsibility to involve them in the community.

When Yu was a graduate student, he sometimes felt isolated, even though his fellow students were friendly and accepted him easily, he said. So he started a school to teach a few Chinese children their native language. The school, where he still volunteers, has flourished and will celebrate its 10th year Jan. 25. There are eight classes now, including martial arts. He also mentioned that more interest is coming from white Americans adopting Chinese babies.

Yu became an American citizen several years ago, but he’s kept his Chinese culture and heritage central in his life. He and his Chinese wife have a daughter and speak mostly Chinese at home. They visit China regularly. Although the fledgling Shanghai program was cancelled last summer due to the SARS outbreak, he is planning for the summer of 2004 and looking forward to the trip.


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of the University of Virginia

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