On curricular representation: Why a liberal arts education is incomplete without Asian American studies

Asian American Students in Action (AASiA) hosted a panel last week as part of their effort to establish a full-time, tenure-track Asian American studies professorial position and ultimately a concentration. Asian American studies is an integral part of American studies and as such should be consistently represented in the College’s curriculum.

The most comparable concentrations to an Asian American studies concentration that the College already offers are the Africana and Latina/o studies concentrations. According to the Africana studies program curriculum, the concentration “[offers] students an in-depth understanding of the history, politics, religion, and culture of peoples of African descent, especially in the Americas.” Similarly, the Latina/o studies concentration “explores the histories, representations, and experiences of Latinas and Latinos in the United States.”

While the College does have an Asian studies major, it is not comparable to Africana or Latina/o studies in that its curriculum includes Asian languages and literature rather than classes about Asian American issues. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the College will only offer one course related to Asian American studies: “Reading Asian American Literature,” taught by Dorothy Wang, professor of American studies. As the College offers both courses and concentrations in the studies of African Americans and Latinas and Latinos in the United States, it is only fitting that it should do the same for Asian Americans.

The College cannot offer more courses in Asian American studies without faculty members whose focus is in this field. Currently, the College only employs two professors who teach Asian American studies classes: Wang and Scott Wong, professor of history. However, Wang and Wong are not obligated to teach Asian American studies courses every year. To guarantee that the College will offer Asian American studies classes annually, it must hire someone specifically to teach Asian American studies.

The administration’s response to students’ demands for more Asian American studies courses and professors specializing in Asian American studies has proven lackluster. At the panel, it was stated that the administration has suggested that student demand for Asian American studies is insufficient. The administration thinks that it would be more fruitful to dedicate the College’s resources to an area in which courses have traditionally been more popular and overenrolled, such as economics.

However, at least some Asian American studies courses should be available at the College regardless of demand; level of demand should not wholly dictate the composition of the College’s course catalog. Moreover, as a liberal arts school, the College should offer courses that reflect a breadth of disciplines.

The College must also consider the historical calls for Asian American studies in its assessment of demand. The students who hope to enroll in Asian American studies classes have lobbied the College time and again for the right to do so, underscoring that there is, in fact, a true student demand for such courses. Moreover, the College’s American studies major is incomplete without Asian American studies courses. An examination of Asian American issues is essential to understanding America as a whole. Also, the College is not in a position to say that there is insufficient demand for Asian American studies courses if students do not even have the option of taking an Asian American course every semester.

For years, students have been passionately fighting to see the College offer more Asian American studies courses, as well as an Asian American studies concentration. The administration’s response up until this point has been dismissive, slow-moving and altogether unsatisfactory. The College has a responsibility to seriously consider and respond to this student demand. As such, the College should move towards an expansion of its currently inadequate Asian American studies program.