The time is now: Calling for the College to act upon recommendations and make Asian American studies a reality

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In its recent report on the status of Asian American studies (AAS) at the College, a Curricular Planning Committee (CPC) working group recommended that the College make two tenure-track appointments for faculty with specialized training in AAS and formalize an AAS program with a concentration. 

In offering its students the finest possible liberal arts education, the College must include this critical field of study that both offers unique methodologies and perspectives and strengthens other disciplines. In this critical moment for AAS at the College, after past attempts have been met with dismissal and hesitation, we at the Record call upon the College to take action and to commit to implementing the working group report’s recommendations without delay.

Legitimizing AAS at the College is vital to the recognition of the breadth of Asian American lived experiences, yet stakeholders are not limited to those of a particular identity. As noted on the website for the student-coordinated AAS movement, “Asian American studies provides an opportunity for not only Asian American students to learn about their identity and history, but also for all students to learn about the unique ways Asian American experiences have shaped and defined American culture and society.” 

The College has an obligation to offer a robust curriculum with courses of intellectual significance, and developing AAS offerings is essential to that pursuit. Interest in AAS is also high – the CPC report details consistently high enrollments in AAS courses when offered and an upward trend in total enrollments in the last five to six class years. Offering an increasingly robust and diversified AAS curriculum would only generate more student demand and enrollment.

We also recognize the legacies of student activism that brought AAS to this position. Two previous proposals for an AAS program, in 2004 and 2012, were written, submitted and ultimately not accepted. It is crucial that, this time, the working group’s recommendations not be overlooked. When this proposal soon comes before the Committee on Appointments and Promotions and the full faculty, the process of formalizing AAS cannot afford to lose momentum. The College must fully commit itself and its resources to this endeavor.

Hiring tenure-track faculty in AAS is critical to developing a sustainable and supportive program. The CPC working group report stresses that the College’s reliance upon “contingent faculty, such as visitors, pre- and post-doctoral fellows, to teach Asian American studies” has proved inadequate in building “a concentration as a permanent and coherent component of the curriculum.” Laying the groundwork for a growing academic unit requires time and energy that only the stability of tenure-track faculty can provide.

The sustainability of the program will depend upon the inclusion of these new faculty at the College. The 2009 Faculty-Staff Initiative report drew attention to the unique but often unnamed burdens placed upon minority faculty, especially those of junior standing, including additional support of minority students and isolation within their own programs. While AAS faculty will undoubtedly be of varying identities, ethnic studies units are disproportionately affected by the departures of faculty of color. The College must make a concerted effort to provide these new faculty with the professional and personal mentorship and development they need to establish themselves as scholars, teachers and leaders here. 

The College finds itself at the end of a long lineage of visible student efforts to rethink academic equity. The occupations of Hopkins Hall for an Afro-American studies department and the hunger strikes in 1991 and 1993 for a Latina/o studies program have not been forgotten. The College, rather than defer action once more, must take immediate steps to answer the needs voiced by its students.