by Hank Brady
Xavier University’s Yu Jiang doesn’t profess to have the same influence that helped shaped the Qin Dynasty. But he does have unbridled enthusiasm that comes with being named director of the newly established Confucius Institute.
The Confucius Institute, which had its grand opening in October, is a new facility on Xavier’s campus that focuses on indoctrinating students, as well as the community, on educational, cultural, and economic relationships between America and China.
“Our goal is to become a leading educational center for Chinese studies in the areas of social development and economic development,” says Jiang, a graduate of Beijing University and former assistant professor of museum studies at SUNO. “Our university mission is to train leaders of the next generation to become global leaders from a worldwide perspective. By offering Chinese language and culture courses to our students we are directly contributing to the university mission. We also aim to facilitate the research activities in those areas and to increase and enhance the mutual understanding between the US and China.”
The institute, located in the St. Joseph Academic/Health Center, is the first of its kind at a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and offers a unique opportunity for Xavier’s students to learn and exchange varying perspectives.
“By putting the Confucius Institute at Xavier, which is a premier HBCU, we believe our students will have an edge to compete with other schools worldwide,” Jiang says. “Additionally, we provide a model for other HBCU’s to follow.”
The project is a joint effort between Xavier University, Hebei University of China, and the office of Chinese Language Council International of the Chinese Ministry of Education. With each university being a beacon for research and study in the area of pharmacy, the interconnection of goals will enhance each school’s strength, Jiang says.
“We can learn from one another,” he says. “Our students here learn western medicine but they also have an opportunity to be exposed to herbal (Chinese) medicine, so when they become pharmacists, or when they go to a pharmacy, they are much better prepared. And because of Xavier’s strength in pharmacy, reciprocally speaking, we can teach our colleagues from Hebei University as well.”
In the near future, Jiang says Xavier will look into offering distance-learning, allowing students from New Orleans and China to enroll in courses that professors from both schools will co-teach via video-conferencing.
He also hopes to eventually add an exchange component so that students can travel between the schools to actively engage in the cultural dynamic each destination offers.
“Four of us are going to Beijing from the Institute to attend an annual conference, and we also talk about student exchange and how the two universities will accomplish this,” he says. “We want Chinese students to experience Cafe Du Monde, jazz music, Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Museum of Art.”
Another important aspect of the Confucius Institute is its goal of serving the community inside and outside of Xavier. And it has been through vast community involvement that this new center has been sponsored. Individuals like former New Orleans Mayor and current President & CEO of the National Urban League Marc Morial, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu , U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu, to name a few, were all instrumental in Xavier’s successful application to start the Institute, Jiang says.
On Xavier’s side, University President Norman C. Francis and Special Assistant to the Administration Dr. Monique Guillory provided critical guidance and vision that ultimately led to the center getting the go-ahead.
“Dr. Guillory was the key person in the organization of multiple meetings and international trips,” Jiang said. “And she wrote the application package itself. So I am very appreciative of Dr. Guillory’s invaluable contribution throughout this process because she worked tirelessly to create the Confucius Institute.”
Additionally, community leaders like Edward Lee, president of the Louisiana Packing Co., and Karl Turner, president of A La Carte Specialty Foods, gave considerable financial contributions, Jiang says.
These connections aren’t coincidental; they are all part of the amalgam the director is trying to create at the Institute where the supply and demand from other Louisiana businesses facilitate a need for teaching students and for developing economic connections specifically between China and Louisiana.
Jiang, still swelling with excitement, also tells of the festivals that will educate the community and XU students on Chinese culture.
In February 2013, the center will celebrate the Spring Festival (or the Chinese New Year Festival). In May 2013, there will also be a “Dragonboat” festival where vessels adorned in colorful dragon designs are raced in traditional fashion. Finally there is the Autumn festival which will take place in August and September and round out a cultural bonanza.
“These festivals will be celebrated on Xavier campus, namely the University Center,” says Jiang. “We want people to have fun and experience Chinese culture and these festivals are open to both the school and the public so participants will have the opportunity to enjoy traditional food, music performances, and visual entertainment as well.”
With so many items on his checklist Jiang doesn’t have a minute to spare. But if there’s one past-time he wants to be an integral part of the Confucius Institute, it’s his personal favorite game – ping pong.
“In 2013 we also want to sponsor a ping pong tournament. We want to host the first one statewide probably in November,” Jiang says. “I’m very, very excited about that.”
There’s much to be excited about as the Confucius Institute appears primed and ready to engage Xavier students and the larger community. But more importantly it aspires to be a bridge between nations and cultures.
“Suffice it to say we are very excited about the opportunities we have on this campus,” Jiang says. “The school has been very supportive and we are fortunate for that.”