Stop Killing UPenn's Asian American Studies
Stop Killing UPenn's Asian American Studies
By Penn Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board (UAB)
On the dawn of Penn Asian American Studies (ASAM) Program’s 20th Anniversary, founding faculty member, Dr. Grace Kao, has accepted an offer from Yale and is poised to leave Penn. With this loss comes great uncertainty for the future of our program.
Built on a foundation of protests and frustrated voices that spans longer than 20 years, Penn’s Asian American Studies Program had Dr. Kao as one of the first faculty members to head the program. Serving as director from 2003 to 2009, she has consistently fought for its growth and academic offerings. Her mentorship and scholarly work at Penn have been truly groundbreaking.
Despite two decades of Dr. Kao’s dedication to the University’s mission for integrated learning, we as a program are still struggling for legitimacy, funding, and faculty retention. Yet, somehow interest has only grown. Our courses offered in Sociology, History, and English are currently among the largest and highest enrolled classes in their respective departments. Even with this undeniable demand, we have made little progress.
With Dr. Kao’s incoming departure and continued stagnation of the program, it is incredibly ironic and tragic to think that Provost Price and President Gutmann called ASAM “a shining example of the value and importance of interdisciplinary education at Penn” and “a superb example of the integration of knowledge and the commitment to global engagement,” respectively. What more must we prove to protect our history?
It is not enough for Dean Fluharty to write, “… Penn will continue our strong commitment to the Asian American Studies Program,” to the members of our UAB on January 26th after being contacted by our Chair a total of three times since December 23rd. The Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board, students, alumni, and supporters of ASAM petition Dean Fluharty, President Gutmann, Provost Price, and the University of Pennsylvania to accept the following demands:
1. The ASAM UAB demands that Penn hires a standing senior Asian American sociology professor to replace Dr. Kao.
It is imperative that we have another permanent faculty member in the ASAM program in order to focus and strengthen this discipline that is repeatedly erased from history. If Penn does not hire another full-time ASAM faculty member, Dr. Eiichiro Azuma, Director of the ASAM Program and Alan Charles Kors Term Associate Professor of History, Dr. Josephine Park, Core Faculty Member of the ASAM Program and Associate Professor of English, and Dr. Fariha Khan, Associate Director of the ASAM Program, will no longer have any incentive to keep the ASAM Program alive.
2. The ASAM UAB demands more administrative support for the program.
Currently, Dr. Khan is the only person who handles any administrative work related to ASAM, leaving her unable to focus on the growth of the program and limiting her ability to teach. It is unreasonable that Dr. Khan, recipient of this year’s Women of Color at Penn award and Ambassador for Penn on the Governor’s Commission for Asian Pacific American Affairs, is not given enough support.
3. In order to grow, the ASAM program requires more physical space for its Program.
No space has been formally dedicated to the program on campus other than two small rooms in McNeil. It is only appropriate for ASAM to have a reading room in the library or a seminar room to host events, so that the resources the ASAM department possesses can be accessed and utilized by students.
4. ASAM demands space and money for post-doctorates and faculty who can teach disciplines beyond those already offered.
Penn is severely lacking in courses that discuss the APA narratives within Cinema and Media Studies, Anthropology, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. Critical discussions in these fields are necessary.
5. Finally, the ASAM UAB demands more support not only for its own program but for all ethnic and minority studies programs on campus.
The Africana Studies, the Latin American and Latino Studies, the Native American & Indigenous Studies, and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies programs on campus experience similar struggles. It is imperative that Penn show increased support for its minority communities.
To say that we are “celebrating” our 20th anniversary is a gross irony. We now have a reduced number of core faculty, only one administrative position, and a continuously dwindling number of courses. In the wake of a president that spews toxic rhetoric against people of color, immigrants, and refugees, our program is critical to remind us the consequences of forgetting a history of discrimination, protest, and struggle. We will continue to fight for the integrity and livelihood of our Program, and this is certainly not the last you will hear from us.