During her first few weeks at Carolina, Selina Shi was struck by the stark difference between Asian American representation in Chapel Hill and her hometown of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She didn’t feel entirely part of the student body she had just joined.
“I felt like I didn’t have the opportunity to raise my hand and be noticed,” says Shi, now a junior studying computer science and business.
Since then, she has been working to ensure future generations of Asian American Tar Heels don’t experience that same feeling.
Her mission ultimately led her to join the Asian American Center Campaign — a student group that worked to bring the UNC Asian American Center to life. Today, the center will host a ribbon-cutting at its new location on Wilson Street near Granville Towers as part of a multi-day celebration. Although the center opened virtually last fall, the celebration marks an opportunity for the center to officially welcome the Carolina community to its space.
The moment, Shi says, is surreal.
“To actually have something physical on campus to go to and to hang out in and to call your own is incredible,” she says. “I’ve been dreaming about this moment for two years. Some students have been dreaming about this moment for three, four, five years. And then, some of our donors and Asian American alumni have been dreaming about this moment since the 1990s.”
The center and its new physical space are providing Shi and her team the opportunity to make the impact she’s wanted to have since she was a first-year student. Despite having only virtual opportunities over the past year, the center and Shi have already played a major role in creating conversations around the Asian American experience at Carolina and in the South.
“They let Asian American Tar Heels know that their concerns are valid, that they are valid and that their voice is being heard,” she said. “It’s been so fantastic finally having a set programming schedule and event schedule. It’s been so great, and the events have been such a joy to be a part of.”
As the Asian American Center Campaign director, Shi is dedicated to ensuring the center builds on last year’s momentum. She says that having the new physical space on campus where they can meet, socialize and hold events will help the student team take their impact to the next level.
“It’s going to make things even better,” she says. “It’s going to provide a space where people can come together and talk face-to-face. Actually having the dedicated space that we know we can use whenever we want to is going to be a game-changer for events moving forward.”
Ensuring space — both a physical location and in representation — for Asian American Tar Heels on Carolina’s campus has not only allowed Shi to leave her heelprint and support future students but has also opened her eyes to her calling.
“What I’m doing, what the team is doing and what the center is doing is working to make UNC a more welcoming place for future Asian American Tar Heels,” Shi says. “The fact that we’re doing that has impacted my experience personally so much and made me realize moving forward that this type of work is something that I really need in my life. I want to help make an impact in people’s lives in a positive way and make people feel included and heard.