The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with the new director of the Pan-Asian American Community House about her journey at Penn and her goals for the future of the organization.
PAACH welcomed new director Mei Long on July 3, filling a vacancy created after the abrupt departure of former Director Peter Van Do in September 2022. Long, a 2011 graduate from the Graduate School of Education, has served in numerous roles at Penn, her most recent being the associate director of academic affairs and advising in the Wharton School’s undergraduate division.
Long told the DP that she was optimistic about PAACH's future in regards to its headquarters in the ARCH. Previously, PAACH was housed in the ARCH basement, but will soon be incorporated into the rest of the building as part of the University’s commitment to expanding the cultural resource centers.
“I’m really excited about [the changes to the ARCH building]” Long said. “President Magill actually reached out to me. I was a little surprised, but then I also appreciated that because it really speaks about the University's attention to our community as well.”
Long started her career at Penn as a student at the Graduate School of Education after moving to the United States from China. She said that had she stayed in China, her goal would have been to become a college professor. However, she told the DP that during her time at Penn, she quickly discovered that she had other passions.
“I enjoy having the opportunity to have conversations with students about their personal, professional life and their career,” Long said. “After coming to the U.S., especially at Penn, I realized there are so many other different ways for me to do that, instead of just becoming a college professor.”
After graduating from GSE, Long worked in career and academic advising positions across multiple universities, including Penn and Drexel University. In her most recent role at Wharton, she spearheaded efforts to strike up conversations about the Asian identity and experience, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long believes her years of conversations with Penn students will be valuable as she steps into her role at PAACH.
“You really learn about who [individual students] are as a person,” Long said about her experience advising Asian and Asian American students. “You learn about how they experienced or [have] been shaped by being an Asian in the U.S.”
Long’s assumption of her new role completes PAACH’s professional staff, which has seen numerous vacant roles over four years. This past January, PAACH hired Vicky Aquino and Daniel Hoddinott as associate directors after a vacancy of three years. Cindy Au-Kramer, PAACH’s finance, operations, and program coordinator, oversaw its day-to-day operations in the interim period before Long and the associate directors were hired.
“Now, we're really in a great position in terms of staffing,” Long said, adding that she believes PAACH is now prepared to "help increase the awareness of the issues that are facing and impacting our Asian community and to try to find ways to address those issues.”
Among the issues that Long identified is the “bamboo ceiling,” or the stereotypes and discriminations that Asians face in the workplace. Long specifically cited the lack of Asian roles in higher leadership.
“Because of our history of this country, because of the misperceptions of who we are, we are often seen as doers and not leaders,” she said. “I feel like we, as a Center, need to talk about these issues with all our schools so that they can think about how they can better support our Asian students — in all those different aspects of their life: in the classroom, in the club process, as they go through the recruiting process.”
Long’s work at Wharton during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were heightened levels of anti-Asian discrimination, centered around dialogue and solidarity. In the context of the debate around affirmative action, she again emphasized the importance of dialogue and discussion.
“There's lots of diversity among and within the Asian community… because there’s lots of diversity in educational attainment and socioeconomic status,” Long said. "What we are sure is we are very committed to support all students and to create a space to listen to all those different thoughts."
As a former international graduate student at Penn herself, Long also cited increased inclusion of international and graduate-level Asian students as one of her goals as PAACH director.
“My current understanding is, historically, PAACH’s mission has primarily been to support the undergrad Asian American students,” Long said. “I do want to be able to support [international and graduate Asian students] better, too, while continuing to support our undergrad Asian students.”
Long told the DP she was most excited about a fully staffed professional team and having the opportunity to actualize PAACH’s goals.
“We just want to...think about how we can make PAACH a welcoming space for the entire Asian community of undergrad and grads...so that we can come together to uplift each other's experience,” she said. “That's really our goal moving forward.”
Correction: A previous version of this article failed to include the words "in the classroom" in a quote from Mei Long. The DP regrets the error.