Prof urges Asian-Am. studies

Professor Karen Suyemoto discussed the importance of Asian-American studies and the role of cultural groups at a Monday night talk sponsored by Asian-American student groups.

Suyemoto, who teaches clinical psychology and Asian-American studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, lauded the advantages of Asian-American studies during her talk, which was sponsored by the Asian American Cultural Center and the Asian American Students Alliance. The talk — titled “Because of my race, I am not ashamed” — was followed by a question-and-answer session and addressed how Asian-American studies courses can help students combat race-related challenges that affect their education and mental health.

Professor Karen Suyemoto speaks about the role of Asian-American studies and cultural houses  on Monday evening.
Matt Lucas
Professor Karen Suyemoto speaks about the role of Asian-American studies and cultural houses on Monday evening.

According to psychology and education research, the “model minority” myth about Asian Americans hides a number of problems nationwide, including depression, anxiety, isolation, low self-esteem and self-contempt, Suyemoto said.

Courses in Asian-American studies seek to inspire students by transforming negative experiences into something empowering, she said.

Asian-American studies encourages professors to include a discussion of Asian Americans throughout the curriculum, Suyemoto said, so students do not feel disconnected from their educations.

“You’re not actually going to get inclusion of Asian Americans in curriculum unless you have spaces for it,” Suyemoto said. “I would argue strongly for the inclusion of Asian American issues in every subject matter. If education were what it should be, every class would have dialogues about Asian Americans and African Americans and Latin Americans. If education were what it should be, we wouldn’t need Asian-American studies.”

According to a recent study of course offerings in Asian-American studies nationwide, Yale trails far behind many of its peers, said Saveena Dhall, dean of the Asian American Cultural Center. For example, while UMass-Boston offers more than 20 courses in Asian-American studies across many disciplines, Yale offers courses only in the history and literature departments, Dhall said.

Suyemoto’s talk was part of a lecture series presented by the Asian-American Studies Task Force, a part of AASA, in an effort to foster student and faculty support for an Asian-American studies major.

One of the major arguments against the possible major is the lack of interest in Asian-American studies in general, and Suyemoto’s talk succeeded in bringing more awareness to the issue, Asian-American Studies Task Force co-chair Becky Hua ’08 said.

“I think today’s lecture was really good because it showed that Asian-American studies benefits the whole undergraduate community, not just Asian Americans,” Hua said. “Suyemoto’s talk specifically addressed how having a major would promote the well-being of students on campus and obviously pertained to our objective and what the task force is trying to do right now.”

Suyemoto also addressed the continuing question of whether cultural groups and houses promote racial self-segregation. She said unity starts with the recognition that something is broken.

“I cannot be united with you until you see me,” she said. “In my experience, the way that white people are socialized to understand race doesn’t see race, while people of color do.”

The issue is not that cultural groups cause divisions out of something that is united, Suyemoto said, but the divisions are always there and must be unified. Although it is much easier to ignore the social structures, students must push against biases in order to create unity, she said.

AASA co-moderator Christine Nguyen ‘09 said she sees cultural groups on campus as places where people can find their cultural identities in order to foster more widespread unity.

“Cultural houses and groups are there to separate temporarily in order to reconnect,” Nguyen said. “It’s important to set yourself apart to recognize your identity and who you are. You have to fulfill that personal connection and identity first before you can share it with other people and connect with other people. After people have reflected on the values that are important to them, then it’s also important that they realize that these values that characterize their certain culture are also in common with other groups.”

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