Local woman one of first Asian American college deans

Elizabeth “Liz” Ahn Toupin, 92, has come a long way from the sugarcane fields of Oahu.

Liz Ahn Toupin was one of the first Asian American college deans. She now resides in Lexington. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

Born in Hawaii to Korean immigrants, Toupin was the youngest child of Won Kiu and Chung Song Ahn, leaders of the Korean Independence Movement in the United States. She worked as intelligence specialist in NATO affairs with the foreign aid program and as communications director for the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii.

After marrying Richard Toupin, she lived in suburban New York and wrote two bestselling cookbooks: “The Entertaining Wife” with Suzanne Rogers, and “The Hawaii Cookbook” with its introduction by James Michener.

“I got into cookbook writing because I was housewife stuck at home with three kids,” Toupin said. “It took off like a firecracker.”

In 1967 she found herself a single mother supporting three children: Christine, Cecile and John. A chance meeting with Antonia Chayes, newly appointed dean of Jackson College, brought her to Tufts University in Medford. She recounts those days in her memoir, “Diary of a Dean: Campus Revolution 1968-92.”

Former Sampan editor Gloria Chun said, “It is a look back during a fascinating time in this country — particularly at a time when so few Asians had such high-level positions in the academic world.”

As one of the first Asian American college deans, her career at Tufts spanned a tumultuous period of societal, educational and institutional upheaval. Being a woman of color helped her advocate for students, as Tufts integrated more black, Asian and female students.

“Being Asian means you are different. As Americanized as you feel, you are perceived as Asian and therefore a foreigner,” Toupin said. “The issue is not to let the stereotype or other people define you.”

Toupin retired from Tufts in 1992, after publishing papers on Asian American mental health issues and coed housing. The spry nonagenarian continues to paint, read and write in Lexington. Her daughters live in Massachusetts, while her son lives in California.

“I was brought up by rebels,” Toupin said. “It’s important to stand up with the support of your family

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About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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