A New Grassroots Approach in Asian American Studies

By Andrew Yick

Despite the fact that, relatively speaking, the Asian American student population represents the largest minority group on college campuses, very few colleges have a fully funded and separate Asian American Studies department.  Per an article in the most recent The Pacific Citizen (“The Next Wave of Asian America on College Campuses”), only 32 autonomous Asian American Studies exist across the country.  Not surprisingly, most of these program are in California and New York.  And about 20 other schools have their program reside within another department.

I think about my alma mater, Carleton College, in semi-rural Minnesota, and remember the only one — yes, just one — Asian American Studies course (“Introduction to Asian American Studies”).  It was offered every other year and found its home within the American Studies department.  And embarrassingly, it had to recruit a visiting professor from another school with an Asian American Studies department to teach the class!  I checked my college’s website, and, yes, there’s still only one course.

Of course, it didn’t help that the class drew less than 10 enrolled students.  But, I think, what if students strongly advocated for such a program?  Would we have succeeded in having our own Asian American Studies department?  Probably not.  Like many other schools hit hard by the economy and a decline in the endowment, funding for a separate department and additional courses would not be financially feasible.

For API students wanting their colleges to establish an Asian American Studies department, the best next-step towards accomplishing that goal might be to encourage the hiring of more Asian American professors who have an academic interest in the study of Asian American issues, whether it be in history, political science, or economics.  Isn’t that how African American Studies departments got started?  Professors with an academic interest in API issues will be more likely to initiate the creation of new courses.  This first step can then snowball into a separate department solely focused on Asian American Studies.  On a more grassroots level, the issue may really be about hiring a more diverse faculty with diverse interests.