The Sun Also Rises

Rumors stirred last semester that Sun Yat Sen Hall, the building that has housed the Asian Studies program for more than 30 years, would be torn down, new offices and a cafeteria to take its place. The rumors were stoked by a New York Daily News article published on Nov. 27.

According to Dominic Scianna, the Director of Media Relations, however, students’ fears were unfounded.

“There is no planned demolition of Sun Yat Sen Hall,” Scianna said in a statement. “That report was totally false.”

Instead, Scianna said, Sun Yat Sen Hall is on its way to some major renovations.

“More than $2 million in construction costs will be spent to renovate Sun Yat-Sen Hall in 2007,” Scianna said, adding that $1 million of the costs will be paid for by an anonymous external donor. The money will go toward expanding and upgrading the Dr. M. T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery that currently resides within the hall, construction of a new cultural center and reading room, a refurbished library with Asian artifacts and probably some type of dining area.

Scianna assures that apart from these enhancements, the building will, for the most part, stand as it was originally erected.

Before the rumors were dispelled, students created a group on the Web site Facebook called “Save Sun Yat Sen Hall.” The group originally expressed fears that “the only nice architectural building on campus” would be removed. They also complained that a symbol of Asian culture would be no more, a large concern because of the significant Asian student population at St. John’s.

“Of the 20,069 students currently enrolled at St. John’s University, 14 percent of the population is of Asian descent,” Scianna said. “There are presently 17 students majoring in the Asian Studies undergraduate program and 13 students enrolled in the Master’s program.”

The Institute of Asian Studies is a department within St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that offers several programs, including a B.A. degree, M.A. degree or certificate in humanity and social sciences, which includes history, literature, philosophy, religion, society and politics. There are also courses in the Japanese, Chinese and Korean languages at various levels.

“The M.A. programs seek to provide intensive knowledge of the field and experience in the critical use of sources and in the presentation of research,” Scianna explained.

The Asian Studies program began in 1959. It was founded by Dr. Paul K.T. Sih. Sun Yat Sen Hall, which was also the brainchild of Dr. Sih, was officially dedicated in 1973. The hall is named after the first provisional president of the Republic of China. At the time the hall was being built, President Richard Nixon announced plans to visit Communist China, spurring interest in Chinese culture throughout the United States.