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Meet Rin-rin Yu: The Asian-American Editor Who Transformed Howard Media

Picture of Rin-rin Yu holding Best Redesign award for Howard Magazine. Photo Courtesy of Rin-rin Yu. 

Two years ago, Rin-rin Yu was managing her own communications consultancy business while enjoying the freedom of being her own boss. That was until the pandemic hit, and the country experienced a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement triggered by the George Floyd, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor police brutality cases. 

Yu described feeling compelled to participate in the movement, but she was unsure of what her role in it would be. 

“I’m just not the kind of person who’s going to like, make a sign and walk the streets,” Yu said. “I’m like ‘I feel like there’s just something more I can do,’ and then this job popped up and I’m like ‘I’m just going to give it a shot and see what it’s about.’” 

She became the editor-in-chief of Howard’s four media outlets – Howard Magazine, Bison Beat, The Dig and the Annual Report – and said she is the first Asian-American woman to serve in this role. 

In Yu’s time as editor-in-chief, Howard’s Vice President and Chief Communications Officer  Frank Tramble said Howard Magazine has won more than 15 national and international awards. Including three Folio magazine awards for Best Redesign, Best Cover for the Spring 2021 issue and Best Single Article for the feature “Using Trial to Overcome Tribulation” by writer Katti Gray. The magazine additionally won two Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Circle of Excellence awards, receiving a silver award in Alumni/General Interest category and a gold award in Publishing Improvement.  

Picture of Howard Magazine editor-in-chief Rin-rin Yu and the Women Deans of Howard University. (From left to right) Rin-rin Yu, Phylicia Rashad (College of Fine Arts), Gina Spivey-Brown (College of Nursing & Allied Health Sciences), Dawn Williams (School of Education), Andrea Jackson (School of Dentistry), Yolanda Pierce (School of Divinity), Sandra Edmonds Crewe (School of Social Work), and Dana Williams (Graduate School). Photo Courtesy of Rin-rin Yu. 

Despite Yu’s eagerness to begin her new position, she said that her appointment was met with lots of criticism from members of the Howard community on social media, many questioning her place at an HBCU as an Asian-American woman. 

Yu expressed that although she felt some disapproval, nobody had ever vocalized any of their criticism to her directly. “No one ever said it to my face. No one ever will say it to my face,” she said. 

Yu shared she was familiar with this type of scrutiny as she is a minority herself. 

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For Yu, “…it wasn’t anything really new,” she said. “And I also just had the confidence at that point to know well I know I can do a good job. I know what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have applied to this.” 

Tramble had also received backlash on social media for hiring Yu, however, he described there being more overt criticism. 

“It was not a quiet criticism. It was quite noticeable,” Tramble said.

He attributes the support of President Wayne A. I. Frederick, knowing his genuine intention of wanting the best for the university when overcoming the negative response. 

 “…I always have to thank the president…,” Tramble said, “…this was a moment of him trusting my decision. But I’m also very confident in the people that I bring to this university…”

Yu remained at Howard, despite the disapproval of her position from many. She expressed, however, feeling like she had to work exceptionally hard to earn her position. “…for me, it was like I had to, which I feel like I do in every job – I have to do that extra step that other people don’t have to do,” she said. “It’s a little unfair. But I need to do the extra step.”  

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Tramble commended Yu for her strength during the period of backlash, and her ability to perform under such conditions. 

“ be honest, when that criticism happened I think she had a choice. She didn’t have to keep the job,” he said. “You know, there’s a lot of people that would not be able to get through that if they weren’t authentic about who they were, their intentions about coming here, and the work that they were going to do. She never wavered one bit.”

Chad Davis, Yu’s previous co-worker also commended her resilience on LinkedIn on June 13, 2015. “…there is also no such thing as ‘can’t’ in Rin-rin’s world. Her attitude is a mix of cautious optimism and strategic determination,” Davis said in a LinkedIn comment. “She works hard, but more importantly, she works smart.”

Most recently, Yu indicates that she has been at the center of praise for Howard’s publications, including a most recent issue spotlighting Howard’s Women Deans titled The Woman Deans of Howard University,” and an award-winning issue, which details how Howard shaped Vice President Kamala Harris, titled “MADAM V.P. How Howard Helped Kamala Harris Climb the Steps to the White House.”  

Yu said, “…people have actually come back and said, ‘I apologize.’ For people I didn’t know had said a few things were like ‘I apologize that I doubted or that I questioned.’”

After modernizing the publications and incorporating, in Yu’s words, more “eye-catching” elements while implementing fresh content ideas, the publications have garnered numerous national and international awards in the process. 

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Picture of Yu and colleagues posing for a photo. Seth Shapiro (far left), Yu (patterned dress), Frank Tramble (far right), and others. Photo Courtesy of Rin-rin Yu. 

Tramble expresses his gratitude for Yu and the role she’s played in growing the publications at Howard. “I made a statement that she was able to bring to life,” he said.  “And I said I wanted our magazine to be the best one in the country and in fact she took that and ran with it and made it one of the best ones in the world.” 

Moving forward, Yu is in the process of publishing an, according to her,  “middle-grade” fiction novel loosely based on her experience as a minority growing up in suburban New York. The working title is “Goodbye, French Fry” inspired by a bully who used to call her french fry. 

Yu says eventually she’ll turn over her role as editor-in-chief to someone else when the time comes. 

“I feel like at some point…everyone will get tired of what I have to say here at Howard and I should share the reins unto someone…with fresh ideas and fresh blood,” she said. “I always think that’s a good idea. So eventually turn that over.”

In the future, Yu wants to continue to highlight Howard’s faculty and administration in future issues. 

“I think there are a lot of Howard faculty who are in fields that are not well represented…I think it’s important to, you know, keep highlighting them,” she said. 

One member of the Howard community Yu is excited to showcase is Frederick. The magazine has dedicated nine months to a special edition on him.

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“Yes, there has been a lot of presidents, but he’s really done a lot to turn this university around…. So, we’re like ‘let’s do this whole dedicated issue to him,’” she said. 

Yu is unsure of the exact date the special edition will be published but expects it to be released sometime next week. The digital version, however, will be available Wednesday. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew


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