Five Questions With Frank H. Wu
Chancellor and Dean, University of California, Hastings College of the Law
Author, Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White@frankhwu Facebook (Hastings): /uchastings
Raised in Detroit as the son of immigrants, Frank H. Wu never thought that someday he would be named by the National Jurist as the most influential dean in legal education and the third in the nation among legal educators and advocates influencing the ongoing debate about legal education. While growing up Frank thought of himself as a “stereotypical nerd” and believed “he was one of the smartest people he had ever met”—that was until he landed on the campus of Johns Hopkins University.
College was for Frank—as it is for so many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students and many others—the great turning point in his life. He learned and developed into a young man ready to change the world. Frank has accomplished much since his college days and continues to achieve many successes as a law professor, author, and public intellectual.
We couldn’t wait to ask Frank “our” five questions. Read his answers below.
1. Can you tell us where you went to college and what you studied?
I went Johns Hopkins University and majored in writing. My parents are still hoping I will attend medical school. I am glad I studied what I did. I received not only the foundation of a classic liberal arts education but also the inspiration to continue learning over a lifetime. It turns out that the ability to write is crucial to everything else, no matter what career you pursue. I’m not scared of a blank page or empty screen. It presents the opportunity to say something. If you say something worth saying, and you do it well, you can change peoples’ minds and then society as a whole.
2. How would you describe yourself before and after college?
I was a stereotypical nerd. Before I left home, I was book smart but not street smart. I was one of the smartest people I had ever met, but that was because I hadn’t met many people. So college was for me, as it is for so many people, the great turning point in life. After I graduated, I was different. I understood how much I still had to develop, but I was ready. I saw that abstract ideas were important, but real human relationships were even more important.
3. Was there a time when you stumbled in college and were able to recover? How did you overcome the difficulty?
Everyone makes mistakes. Experience is the name we give our mistakes, they say. I would say that I stumbled often in college, especially in not applying myself as much as I should have. I was an underachiever: I had great test scores, but so-so grades. I recovered when I realized that I did not have to conform to stereotypes. I could study what I was passionate about, and, if I worked hard, there would be opportunities for me. To pursue my own path, that was what changed everything.
4. Were you involved in any community service or advocacy work while in college? Why did you choose to get involved?
I wrote about everything, especially Asian Americans. That was a time when many people didn’t even understand the concept of Asian American. They weren’t hostile. They just had never thought of the possibility that a person could be Asian and American. The Vincent Chin case in particular was important to me, since I grew up in Detroit. He was the Chinese American brutally bludgeoned to death by autoworkers who mistook him for Japanese and foreign, blaming him for the setbacks of the Motor City. It wasn’t until after college that I started doing more: The greatest fulfillment in my career has come from volunteer service. It all started with writing though.
5. What advice do you have for AAPI students going to college today?
My advice is: Figure out for yourself what it is you truly want to do. Everything else follows from that. And what you really want to do might not be what you think at the beginning.
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About the “Five Questions With…” Blog Series
The “Five Questions With…” blog series—presented by the “We’re the Changing Face of America” campaign—features the stories of students, public officials, business professionals, entertainers, and other notable Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders. These individuals are sharing their experiences in higher education to help inspire today’s generation of AAPI students to reach for success.
About the “We’re the Changing Face of America” Campaign
The “We’re the Changing Face of America” campaign is a national public awareness effort dedicated to increasing access and completion among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, the fastest-growing student population in U.S. colleges and universities. Launched in March 2013 by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE)—the leading AAPI student- and research-focused organizations, respectively—the campaign works through strategic partnerships to help ensure that access and success challenges experienced by the AAPI student population do not continue. The campaign supports the Partnership for Equity in Education through Research project, which works to improve educational outcomes for AAPI students.
What five questions would you ask AAPI leaders about their college experience? Let us know in the comments section below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
To read more “Five Questions With…” blog interviews or for more information, click here.