Henry Yu doesn’t like to toot his own horn, but he’s done a lot for Chinese Canadians and other minority communities in Metro Vancouver and beyond during the past 15 years.
The associate professor of history at UBC, principal of St. John’s College, and director of the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies, among many other titles, has been a champion of educating the public on the history and issues related to Asian migration and discrimination in Canada.
Prof. Yu has served on many committees that have been historically groundbreaking and transformative. He contributed to the draft text in the final report outlining the historical context for B.C.’s official apology for the province’s long history of anti-Chinese legislation, and he helped 76 Japanese-Canadian UBC students who were removed from the West Coast in 1942 receive honorary degrees from the university.
His research and expertise on Chinese-Canadian history have also led him to become a consultant to help build a Chinese-Canadian museum, with hubs in different Chinatowns around the province.
“It feels like sometimes I don’t have enough hours in the day, but the rewarding part is that you’re part of a lot of different things that people care about,” Yu told the Straight in a phone interview.
Although he held a comfortable position teaching Asian-American history at UCLA for 12 years, Yu felt compelled to return to his alma mater in 2003 to build an institutional structure for students to discover and engage in complex stories about their own heritage.
He’s known to offer history courses that are unconventional: no textbooks are required and there are no written exams. Instead, students work on multimedia projects inside and outside of classrooms, which emphasizes Yu’s commitment to innovative teaching methods.
He’s made it his mission to spotlight issues of race, immigration, and discrimination for the past 15 to 16 years because it hits close to home for him.
“Now I have four young kids. I think it’s even more motivating in that sense of working on them growing up in a society that is inclusive and just,” Yu said.