Over 100 students and faculty members came together this weekend to discuss why Yale needs to offer more opportunities in Asian American Studies to students.
Students, administrators and faculty from Yale, Harvard, UCLA and other universities came together on Friday and Saturday for the Asian American Studies Conference, jointly hosted by the Asian American Studies Task Force and the Asian American Cultural Center. The conference drew attention to the rich academic work that has been done in Asian American Studies, spanning history, art, political science, literature and urban studies, among other fields.
“The field of Asian American Studies is integral to academia and necessary not just for interested Asian-Americans but … for all students,” AACC Dean Saveena Dhall said.
In his keynote address that kicked off the conference, UCLA professor Don Nakanishi ’71 described his personal and professional experiences with Asian American Studies.
Nakanishi went on to cite the tremendous growth in Asian-American research literature in fields such as history and the social sciences as well as in professional disciplines such as law and public health. He also commended Yale’s role in the development of this field.
To date, however, Mary Lui is the only full-time professor in Asian American Studies at Yale, compared to the nearly 60 tenured Asian American Studies professors at UCLA, Nakanishi said.
“Yale has not devoted sufficient resources to build Asian American Studies,” he said.
After Nakanishi’s speech on Friday morning, attendees listened to three panels on Asian American literature, social science and art.
The panels covered topics such as refugee studies, urban development in New York’s predominantly Chinese neighborhoods and Asian American political participation.
“I was really impressed with how well the faculty members walked us through their complex research in these panels,” Lui said. “My frustration is that Yale’s interest for Asian American Studies is reflected in these broad fields of study, but we just don’t have the resources to teach it.”
Students on the Asian American Studies Task Force interviewed shared Lui’s frustration. Task force member James Ting ’15 said he realizes that students like him often do not think that Asian American Studies could be of interest to them because of Yale’s lack of course offerings. The conference, Task Force Chair Austin Long ’15 said, is supposed to expose students to these scholars and get students at Yale to understand the nature of this field of study.
AACC member Casey Lee ’17 said that after attending the second panel , he would definitely take classes on the subjects that the panel speakers are researching. Long, who took Lui’s course, “Asian American History, 1800 to Present,” and is now completing an independent study on Asian-American resistance in the 20th century, said he believes that much of what was taught in that class is central to the wider American experience. This area of study is not just a reflection on identity but is an academically rigorous, interdisciplinary field, Long added.
“There is a conflation between ethnic research and studies about myself and my race,” Ting said. “A large part of why the conference is set up to be very professional and academic is to show faculty and administrators that there is a lot of great, objective, solid research in the field of Asian American Studies,” he added.
University of Massachusetts at Boston Professor Loan Dao, who presented on her research in Asian American political participation, said it was wonderful to be inspired by another field of work and to think about how her work as a social scientist intersects with other professors’ scholarship.
Dao added that at the conference she witnessed exchanges between panelists, especially during the panel centered on literature, that may not have happened otherwise.
“It is very rare that we [Asian American Studies scholars] have an intimate space to dialogue, and that’s what is so unique about this conference,” she said.
At the close of the conference, students interviewed said they hope that the event will spark an impetus for change within the administration and faculty on campus. The conference and task force want to continue a conversation about growing this field of study at Yale, LiLi Johnson GRD ’19 said.
“This is a momentous first step for Yale, and we expect and hope that the conversations and scholarship shared today will help to further develop Asian American Studies and imagine what could be and should be at our Yale,” Dhall said.
Yale’s first Asian American Studies class was offered 45 years ago, during the spring semester of 1970.