Illini Everywhere: Vietnamese Illini, Since 1952

Since at least 1952, Vietnamese students have been attending the University of Illinois. Early Vietnamese Illini have included agronomists, ceramics engineers, chemical engineers, chemists, civil engineers, computer scientists, educators, electrical and computer engineers, historians, industrial engineers, materials scientists, mechanical engineers, metallurgical engineers, nuclear engineers, physicists, psychologists, student leaders, and veterinarians too.

Read on to learn more about early Vietnamese Illini!

Illinois – Vietnam Connections

The earliest direct Illinois and Vietnamese connections might be as recent as the 1950s, as campus and community members organized in support of the peoples of Vietnam. As early as July 1954, for example, over fifty Illini raised money by working in the local community, including detasseling corn, to raise $500 for the Newman Foundation Indochinese Relief Program. In fact, Daily Illini reporting informs us that the initial dollar amount was to be used to buy 2,000 pounds of multipurpose protein food for the creation of as many as 16,000 meals for people living in the region of Indochina (now Vietnam).

Not long later, preceding and during the Vietnam War, some campus and community members organized in response to the U.S. government’s role. Some groups included the Ad Hoc Faculty Vietnam Committee File (Record Series 48/5/5) which, among other activities, it debated War involvement with Department of State representatives (Record Series 48/5/4). Also, local First Congregational Church of Champaign Reverend Harry Applewhite (Record Series 41/69/35) was Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Vietnam of the Champaign-Urbana Ministerial Association. While additional information on campus and community actions can be found in the papers of Faculty Committee Against the Vietnam War co-founder Political Science Professor A. Belden Fields (Record Series 15/18/35), the Thomas A. Kreugar Papers (Record Series 15/13/42), the Cheris Kramarae Papers (Record Series 15/23/28), the Scott Keyes Papers (Record Series 12/8/20), the WILL Subject File (Record Series 13/6/1), and even the College of Engineering Historical File (Record Series 11/1/60).

Meanwhile, multiple student publications featured student writings on the War, including The Daily Illini (Record Series 41/8/801), Drums (Record Series 41/66/826), Geek (Record Series 41/66/969), Illio, (Record Series 41/8/805), and The Walrus (Record Series 41/66/869). Other additional resources include an unsigned ten-page typescript chronological list (from 1948 to 1972) of campus protests (Record Series 41/66/700) identifying multiple anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, the Campus Unrest File (Record Series 37/4/9), and the Craig Poffenberger Papers (Record Series 41/20/193) too.

At the same time, some campus and community members documented the war, fought in the war, or even conducted research at the time of the war too. Some of those documented experiences can be found in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences Subject Files (Record Series 8/1/2), the Joseph Kastelic Papers (Record Series 8/7/26), the Ralph E. Grim Papers (Record Series 15/11/27), the John L. Strohm Papers (Record Series 26/20/75), the James B. Reston Papers (Record Series 26/20/120), Sarah “Sally” Fulton Reston Papers (Record Series 26/20/121), the Robert T. Chapel Papers (Record Series 26/20/129), and the Veteran’s Memorial Project Files (Record Series 26/4/8).

After the war, as other Illinois-Vietnam connections would later develop, Vietnamese student enrollment was on the rise.

Students

The earliest Vietnamese graduate might be Mung Van Nguyen, (M.S. Agronomy, 1954), of Huế, who was also a frequent Daily Illini source for perspective on contemporary Vietnam. As early as November 1953, he was interviewed to describe differences between U.S. and Vietnamese education. The following spring, he published a three-article series on contemporary culture, education, and politics of Vietnam in the Daily Illini too (March 23, March 24, and March 25). In July, he was part of the Indochina Relief Program, documented in a photo and interview with the DI on July 22. In fact, after graduation, he may have even co-authored a history of Vietnam with Thai Van Nguyen.

Meanwhile, off campus, in August 1954, an Indochina dinner “Indochina Chow” was organized at the Newman Foundation, which included ten Vietnamese students arranging and performing music and dance for guests.

While the earliest Vietnamese Illini yearbook photo credit might just belong to Mr. Nguyen Xuan Tung, (Metallurgical Engineering, 1968), as seen in the 1968 Illio (above).

Of course there were graduate students too. Some early graduate student Vietnamese Illini have included: Tran Bao Van, (M.S. Ceramic Engineering, 1972; PhD, 1976); Nguyen Thanh Toan, (PhD Civil Engineering, 1973); Nguyen Phuc Thua (PhD Education, 1975); Nguyen Hoang Dang (PhD Economics, 1977); Thu Van Vu, (M.S. Computer Science, 1981; PhD 1983); Nguyen Tuyen Thanh, (PhD Chemistry, 1983); Nguyen Lykim Hue (PhD Veterinary Medical Science, 1987); Nguyen Thai Dong, (M.A. Chemical Engineering, 1988; PhD, 1993); Huynh-Nhu Le, (M.A. Psychology, 1995; PhD, 1997) Nguyen Hoang My, (M.S. Materials Science and Engineering, 1997); Nancy Ngoc Tran, (M.S. Computer Science, 1997; PhD, 2002); Hao Chi Tran, (PhD Physics, 1997); Nguyen Thinh Truong, (M.S. Nuclear Engineering, 1997); Nguyen Thang Cao, (PhD, Electrical Engineering, 1998); Simone Phuong Nguyen, (M.A. Psychology, 1999); Trong Bao Nguyen, (M.S. Electrical and Computer Engineering, 1999); Thao Nguyen Tran, (PhD Physics, 1999); Calvin Cuong Tran, (M.S. Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, 2000); to name a few.

Organizations

Vietnamese Interest Organizations

During the 1960s and 1970s, early faculty and student organizations concerning the peoples of Vietnam have included: the Coalition to Free South Vietnamese Political Prisoners, the Committee to End the War in Vietnam, the Student Aid for Vietnamese Infants, the Student Committee on Vietnam, and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Vietnamese Students Association

However, it might have been 1983, when the first Vietnamese Illini founded the first Vietnamese student organization on campus. The Vietnamese Students Association was founded to promote Vietnamese cultural awareness and to support both Vietnamese as well as Vietnamese American students at the University. For over thirty-five years, the VSA has organized and self-produced annual athletic competitions, campus fundraisers, potluck meals, and the Vietnamese Culture Nights (including student acting, dances, music, and singing) every spring, for the benefit of Vietnamese and Illini everywhere.

Are you a Vietnamese Illini? Do you know someone who is? We’d like to hear from you! Please send us a message or leave a comment below. We want to include you and your story, as we celebrate the first 150 years of the University of Illinois.

Happy First 150 everyone!

References

[] As always, a special thank you to all students and staff whose tireless work for student life and publications (many of which are available at the University Archives) help preserve the memories of Illini everywhere.

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