Amid students’ confusion over the sudden departure of Peter Van Do, who served as the Pan-Asian American Community House's director for ten years, the University has begun a nationwide search for his replacement.
Van Do did not respond to a request for comment. Associate Vice Provost for University Life Will Atkins told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the University is actively conducting a nationwide recruitment process to search for the former PAACH director's successor.
“We want to hire the best person, and so we’re being purposeful in this search and not just filling a position to fill a position,” Atkins said, adding that he could not give an exact date on when the new director would be selected or start.
In addition, efforts to hire an associate director for PAACH — which have been in the works for over three years — have accelerated in the wake of the vacancy within PAACH and the University hopes to fill the position by next semester, according to Asian Pacific Student Coalition Chair and College senior Jeffrey Yu.
“Candidates are currently being considered, and we’re hoping to have an associate director selected by next semester,” Yu said. He previously told the DP that Atkins has promised that APSC will be able to provide input during the search process.
Yu said while the University has yet to release information on the circumstances surrounding Van Do’s departure, he is optimistic for the future of PAACH.
Nonetheless, Asian American students at Penn report that they remain in the dark about the vacancy of the PAACH director position, describing it as a “devastating loss” for PAACH and the API community.
College sophomore Peter Keo had met with Van Do two days prior to the news of his departure and said that he felt “very taken aback” due to the timing of events.
“This happened not even a month after the ARCH reopening where PAACH got a bigger space and Peter his own office,” Keo said.
Keo had worked with Van Do before coming to Penn as a youth organizer for VietLead, a nonprofit organization that serves the local Vietnamese and Southeast Asian communities and had continued to be involved as a student leader in PAACH-affiliated organizations.
“I really enjoyed working with him,” Keo said. “My initial reaction was just shock, because there hadn’t been any prior mentions of Peter leaving at all, and no official statement from PAACH. They’re still posting on Instagram and churning out newsletters like nothing has happened.”
Keo said that the vacancy of the PAACH director position is a loss, not just for PAACH but also for underrepresented groups on campus.
“Peter was very much a public figure in connecting minority groups both within and outside the Penn community," he said.
For others, the news was less shocking. Some students say that they had their suspicions before the news was announced on Sept. 28 by APSC.
College sophomore Jennifer Deng said that she had interacted frequently with Van Do since her first year of college as a former tri-chair for ASPIRE, a mentoring program for Philadelphia high school students which discusses Asian-Pacific American issues. She said she had felt that something was off when Van Do failed to attend a regular meeting with ASPIRE facilitators without notice.
“Peter had never missed a meeting before,” Deng said. “When I asked other PAACH staff about his whereabouts, I was told that he was on a honeymoon, but I still found it odd that he hadn’t contacted anyone about not being able to show up. No one has heard from him since.”
Deng said that Van Do’s abrupt departure left student groups supported by PAACH scrambling to seek guidance which was formerly provided by Van Do.
"I just hope we quickly get another director because our students can't run everything. It's not going to be sustainable," Deng said. "And we need someone who's going to do it."