A proposal for an Asian American Studies course cluster will be submitted by Associate Professor of English and American Studies Amy Tang later this month to the University’s Educational Policy Committee (EPC), with the hope that it will be approved in time for the start of the next semester. This proposal is a result of efforts by students, led by members of Wesleyan’s Asian American Student Collective (AASC), and supportive faculty to develop Asian American Studies at the University.
“The Asian American demographic is large on the Wesleyan campus, and there are many of us who wish to learn more about their heritage in America,” wrote Ben Filio ’22, a member of the AASC who has been involved in the course cluster’s proposal, in an email to The Argus. “Since many Asian American centric classes are listed under College for East Asian Studies, it makes finding these classes difficult. One of the targets of the Asian American Studies course cluster is to make classes like these more visible to those who are perusing WesMaps, further promoting the need to have an Asian American Studies discipline.”
Students who drafted the Asian American Studies course cluster proposal also wanted to ensure that the course cluster was inclusive of South and Southeast Asian American voices and perspectives, as a common critique of the discipline is that it tends to prioritize East Asian American narratives.
“The field aims to understand both how people from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia have been racialized in the context of America, as well as how Asian Americans have constructed their identity and stories,” the course cluster proposal reads.
Establishing an Asian American Studies course cluster would not create a new academic department, or require any new faculty or staff to oversee the program. Instead, it would simply group Asian American Studies classes together. Those involved in drafting the course cluster’s proposal hope that this will make it easier for students to find and enroll in Asian American Studies classes, and for students and faculty in these classes to collaborate with one another. Currently, the University has seven course clusters listed on WesMaps, including health studies, disability studies, and urban studies.
“The Asian American Studies course cluster introduces students to the central concepts of racialization, transnationalism, and intersectionality as they relate to the Asian American community,” the proposal reads. “The cluster is interdisciplinary, incorporating perspectives from social sciences, history, and the humanities.”
If approved, 13 regularly taught courses from a wide range of academic disciplines would be listed under the course cluster. Some of these courses include: “Asian Latino Encounters: Imagining Asia in Hispanic America,” “Diasporic South Asian Writing and American Studies,” and “Queer Robotics: Cyborgs in Fiction & Anthropology.”
The push for greater academic representation for Asian American Studies has been spearheaded by Emily Moon ’21, a former Vice President of the AASC, along with support from other members of the collective. While Moon and Professor Tang began working on the course cluster proposal in Spring 2019, efforts to establish an Asian American Studies program at Wesleyan have been ongoing for decades.
“Basically since the 1980s, Asian American students at Wesleyan have been pushing for Asian American Studies, unsuccessfully, obviously,” Moon said. “There have been a lot of different efforts, and a lot of the efforts have been very grand. Considering that that hasn’t worked, I am approaching it from the ‘start small, grow big’ scale. AFAM [African American Studies] just became its own department and so I think that this is a particularly poignant time to push for Asian American Studies.”
Kyle Jae Shin ’20, one of the AASC leaders, also commented on the difficulties students have faced in trying to develop Asian American Studies at the University.
“As AASC, [we] have been actively in discussion with Wesleyan for the last couple decades,” Shin said. “Clearly, we have lost year after year. However, we feel confident that we are making active steps towards breaking this cycle of Wes giving AASC and Asian American studies supporters the run-around.”
Moon explained that some of the difficulties with establishing an Asian American Studies program at Wesleyan stems from the fact that, because students are only at the University for four years, there is very little institutional memory of previous attempts to build an Asian American Studies program.
“With a lot of the past efforts, the administration has basically just waited for students to graduate,” Moon said. “Which sucks if you’re a student, but is a very good strategy for an administrator.”
A total of nine professors who teach Asian American Studies classes, including Professor Tang, have signed on to support the cluster’s proposal. While faculty must be the ones to submit a course cluster proposal, some of these professors hope that students leading the development of the proposal will receive even more faculty support.
“So far it’s been primarily a student push. I’d like to see faculty get more involved,” said Associate Professor of American Studies Indira Karamcheti, one of the professors to sign onto the course cluster proposal.
Similarly, when asked about what she would like to see as the future of Asian American Studies at Wesleyan, Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies Yu-ting Huang, who also signed onto the proposal, explained that she hopes to see more dialogue among administrators, faculty, and students about what Asian American studies at Wesleyan should look like.
“I think I would like it to be a more holistic conversation with everybody involved, because I think right now the students really take the lead on this,” she said.
If the course cluster is successfully introduced, students hope that it will lay the groundwork for greater academic representation for Asian American studies at Wesleyan.
“While attaining Asian American Studies at Wesleyan won’t happen in my time at Wesleyan, I firmly believe that our long game approach, via course cluster and strengthening our community and sense of identity on campus will help us get there eventually,” Shin wrote. “I am personally so excited for that day to come.”
Claire Isenegger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.