Faculty, students push for more Asian American classes

This year, Yale College offers just four classes that focus on Asian-American literature and history. But soon, Yalies might be able to choose from a wider range of Asian-American classes, as faculty and students push for better representation of Asian-American studies at the University.

Since October, Yale College Council Senator and Opinion editor at the News Katherine Hu ’21 has been working with sociology professor Grace Kao, American studies professor Daniel Martinez HoSang, English professor Sunny Xiang and history professor Mary Lui, among others, to introduce new classes about the Asian-American community at Yale. Faculty members will host a town hall on Dec. 4 to gauge student interest in the classes and collect suggestions for class topics. According to Lui — who became Yale’s first tenured professor specializing in Asian-American studies when she received tenure in 2015 — Yale currently has the highest number of Asian-American studies-trained faculty in its history, so this year presents a unique opportunity to consider expanding the course offerings on the topic.

“This project is specifically targeted at the Asian-American community, and especially the Asian-American student who doesn’t know much about their history,” Hu told the News. “We want more accessible Asian-American classes that have been lost through the high school curriculum.”

Hu said the current goal of the project is not to create a separate program or department, but to introduce more Asian-American-focused classes and then evaluate next steps  for Asian-American studies in the future.

According to Hu, professors were “very kind, willing and open to creating classes,” provided that they see student demand. This semester’s YCC Fall Survey asked students whether they would take classes within the department if an Asian-American studies program was created at Yale. 42.1 percent of 2,353 respondents answered “yes.”

Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun told the News that working with faculty is the “right way” to push for more Asian-American studies representation in academics at Yale, as faculty members are the ones who decide where to expand their teaching. Chun added that he “very much supports” the initiative.

HoSang said he has already decided to introduce an additional course in spring semester of 2020, titled “Contemporary Asian-American Politics and Social Movements.” The course will focus on issues such as immigration, affirmative action, conservatism, militarization, health, labor, and reproductive justice. HoSang added that he will teach about Asian-American history, politics, culture, literature and social movements in relation to the formation of other minority groups.

Other professors told the News that they are awaiting student suggestions at the upcoming town hall before they come up with class topics.

“All of us as faculty are very committed to approaching our teaching and research intersectionally and relationally, so we often teach courses that are not solely focused on Asian Americans but approach issues of race, gender, sexuality and power and inequality more broadly,” Lui wrote in an email to the News. “That said, our courses are nonetheless very much situated in Asian-American studies even if this isn’t stated in the course title.”

The four professors attending the town hall, as well as a “good portion” of current Yale faculty researching in Asian-American studies, are tenured, Hu said. As a result, if more classes are introduced, they could be offered for a long period of time.

Hu emphasized that students from minority groups will benefit from sections in these classes, as they will serve as a “rare space” for students of color to discuss particular issues that affect them. Hu added that it is important to have these spaces for discussion, as many students could not discuss these problems with parents who may not have been politically active.

According to Lui, student activism has played a large role in expanding the scope of Asian-American studies at Yale. Even before Hu’s initiative, an undergraduate Asian American Studies Task Force affiliated with the Asian American Cultural Center brought attention to Asian-American studies as an important academic field of study and led to the hiring of more Asian-American studies faculty at Yale in recent years, Lui added.

The Asian American Studies Task Force was created in 2000.

Jever Mariwala | jever.mariwala@yale.edu

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