Committee of 100

Q&A Series – Next Generation Leaders: Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng

27th February 2024

Over the past few years, the rise in anti-Asian hate and xenophobia, combined with a global pandemic have made normal, everyday life difficult for the AAPI community.  By sharing stories and insights from those in the Chinese American community, Committee of 100 hopes to shed more light on the issue and help celebrate the amazing accomplishments from within the Chinese American and AAPI community to the world at large. 

The staff of Committee of 100 sat down with one of our Next Generation Leaders and asked them about their careers, what the past few years has been like and their hopes for the future. Committee of 100’s Next Generation Leaders program focuses on young leaders who are passionate about the organization’s mission to promote the full inclusion of Chinese Americans across society and advance the betterment of U.S.-China relations. The program was first established in 2017. 

This month, we spoke with Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, Vice Dean for Research and Equity, Associate Professor, NYU.

Sebastian is Vice Dean of Research and Equity, responsible for both NYU Steinhardt’s Office of Research and Office of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging, and Associate Professor of International Education at New York University‘s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He received his PhD in Education Policy and Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.

His interests include comparative perspectives on race/ethnicity (with a focus on the US and China), immigrant adaptation, and social capital within the school and educational context. As such, his research examines the social relationships in the lives of youth of color and immigrant adolescents in the US, gender and ethnic differences in education in China, and cultural and social capital transfers between adolescents in the US. His scholarship has appeared in top journals in education and sociology, and his work has been covered by over twenty mainstream media outlets, including CNN, NPR, TIME, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Metro, and Essence

Before his return to higher education, he taught algebra and geometry at a public charter school and Upward Bound in San Francisco and was co-founder of a technology start-up based in Shanghai.

Connect with Sebastian on LinkedIn here.

Committee of 100: As a Chinese American, what are some of the challenges you have encountered to become a leader in your respective field?

Sebastian: Although Chinese Americans are well represented in the STEM fields in higher education, we are much less so in other areas of universities and particularly in leadership. The power of representation is always important, but particularly so for Asian Americans in leadership since one of the racial tropes we suffer is that we do not ‘have what it takes’ to be leaders. As a consequence, I believe Chinese/Asian Americans have to excel in all that we do just to be comparable to our white colleagues. But I am at a stage in my career where I want to move beyond living up to imposed standards. Instead, I strive to redefine what does it mean to be a Chinese American academic and a leader. When I have an answer, I’ll share out 😊.

Committee of 100: There are more than 6 million Chinese Americans in the United States today and it is one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S. Do you feel that Chinese Americans are well represented in government, business, and other parts of society?

Sebastian: Definitely not, but things are slowly getting better. For example, some of my work seeks to understand how Asian Americans navigate education and into STEM careers. Notably, the Chinese American community in the US is vast, and in places like New York City, we make up both some of the richest and poorest ethnic groups. My concern has always been with the latter, whose narratives are often eclipsed by ones that uphold the Model Minority Stereotype. As Chinese Americans become more visible, we must ensure we are crafting our own stories.

Committee of 100: What do you believe needs to be done so that more Chinese Americans feel empowered to follow their dreams and push forward to create the programs/businesses/position they want?

Sebastian: To me, the idea of empowerment is intertwined with knowledge. Related to my previous point: we are now more visible, but we must understand what power made us so invisible before (and arguably still now). “Twice as hard to get half as far” is literally a statement describing disadvantage, so I believe empowering ourselves means we recognize social inequalities and not navigate around it, but through it.

Committee of 100: What moment or learning experience inspired you to work in your professional field?

Sebastian: I’m not thoroughly convinced that I am in my ‘perfect’ professional field. I’m more convinced that such a thing doesn’t exist. I entered my PhD (decades ago!) to learn about why the world was the way it was and how to make things better for others. I saw academia as one pathway to do some of this and I’m still confident that I can do some ‘good’ here.

Committee of 100: For those Chinese Americans and AAPIs who just recently graduated college, what advice would you give to them?

Sebastian: I have been asked this hundreds of times over my career and I only have one response, which are the words of the brilliant Toni Morrison: “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

Committee of 100: What do you most want to be remembered for in terms of making your mark on this world?

Sebastian: A few times during your academic career, if you’re privileged and lucky, you write these strange statements about your impact, your contribution to the field and the world. Stuff that would make my mom slap the back of my head because it sounds so arrogant. I think my mom is right: I should be humble. And if I listen to my mom, which I sometimes do, is thinking about ‘my mark’ aligned with being service-minded?

Explore our work by topic

Explore our research, programs, initiatives and events.