Pluralism dean 'crosses the line'

by Kay Fukunaga | 10/31/02 6:00am

After only two months on campus, recently-hired Associate Dean of Pluralism and Leadership Tommy Lee Woon has already found time to take three student-led campus tours and try the stir-fry at Collis.

"I want to see campus through student eyes," Woon said. "My primary objective is to help students be more comfortable interacting with one another across cross-cultural lines and building better cross-cultural relationships."

Woon's position -- created this year as an addition to the Dean of Student Life Office -- stemmed from a recommendation put forth in the Report of the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity in June 2001.

The report presented several reasons for making stronger investments in campus diversity initiatives, including the increasingly interdependent national and global society and survey results that reported that 90 percent of Dartmouth's first-year students expected to become friends with people who are different.

"We were looking for someone who is known for taking a vision and doing something with that vision. Tommy Lee Woon is known nationally for his work," said Janet Terp, co-chair of the selection committee.

The search drew well over 100 applicants from across the country, she said.

Woon already has plans for a program aimed at helping students to identify with others and come to terms with their own identity.

The program, which Woon has dubbed "Crossing the Line," is one he successfully coordinated at Stanford, where he served as multicultural educator and assistant dean of students.

Beside the implementation of such formal programs, Woon also hopes to interact with students on a more informal basis.

"I play golf and fly-fish, and I am looking for students to do that with," Woon said. "I'll also be having dinners at my house for students."

Woon's articulate speaking style belies his linguistic background. His family spoke Toisan, a Cantonese village dialect, Woon said. English is his second language.

Woon, born in Arizona, was raised in California by Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucianist parents.

"My great grandfathers, however, came to the United States in the 1880s, so I often say that I am almost a Mayflower Chinese," Woon said.

Along with his brother, Woon was part of the first generation in his family to attend college, and it was then that he really began to explore issues of diversity.

While attending the University of California-Davis in the 1960s, he became involved in the Asian studies movement.

"It was lobbying for Asian American studies and ethnic studies that inspired me to do the work that I am doing today," Woon said, adding that at the time there were fewer than a million Asians residing in the United States.

Woon described his generation as the first one that was really able to address the issues that had affected Asian communities -- Japanese internment, the Chinese Exclusion Acts and anti-immigration laws.

A sense of responsibility to document their history and culture compelled his generation of Asian Americans to investigate issues of diversity, Woon said.