Town hall discusses Asian American Studies course
The Brandeis Asian American Task Force held a town hall forum on Monday night to discuss the American Studies Program’s revived course titled “The Asian American Experience” being offered next semester. About 20 students attended to ask questions about the course and the activist organization.
BAATF demanded that the University create an Asian-American Studies program last December in a letter to senior administrators and through a protest outside the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center. In response, the University formed a Faculty-Student Committee on Asian American Pacific Islander Studies. Reviving “The Asian American Experience” is the first action the University has taken toward establishing an AAPI program.
“The whole course is about Asian-American history, just an overview since the mid-nineteenth century to now,” Danni Tang ’19 explained at the round-table. Tang is a member of the Faculty-Student Committee. “The whole reason we have this initiative and this course and this minor is because we [Asian-Americans] don’t get to learn about our history in this country.”
As of Monday night, the class has capped out at 30 students. “It’s kind of an experiment right now, to see how many people are interested in taking the course,” Tang explained and encouraged interested students who did not get in the course to contact BAATF. Patrick Chung, a new adjunct faculty hire, will teach the course.
A course description written by Chung that was read at the event said the course “explore[s] the hidden history of Asians in the United States, starting from the American Revolution to the present. By highlighting the role taken by Asia and Asian-Americans in U.S. History, this course can test the commonly held assumption that Asian-American history is at the margins of American history. In other words, what we think we know about American history changes dramatically when we put Asians at the center of key historical moments, like the Civil War and World War II.” The course also fills the Oral Communication distribution requirement, according to Tang.
At the moment, Chung is only hired to teach for the upcoming semester, according to BAATF. He is currently a History graduate student at Brown University with a specialization in Asian American history, Korean history, and U.S.-South Korea relations. Professor Sarah Lamb (ANTH), a member of the Faculty-Student Committee, told the Justice in an email that Chung “already has several publications and is known to be an excellent, dynamic instructor.” While the committee members at the BAATF meeting on Monday had not themselves met Chung, they said that other students on the committee had, and they felt he would be a great professor.
While the committee is still working to create a full AAPI program, according to Lamb, there are several current Brandeis faculty members “keen on contributing courses and other support to the new program,” but she believes the program will need at least one more full-time professor “whose central expertise is Asian American Studies.” Lamb said the committee hopes to make this hire, and added that the current course’s high enrollment “certainly supports the BAATF’s argument that students at Brandeis want and need more courses in Asian American studies.”
Student members of the committee said on Monday night that the committee is looking into finding a Theresa Kay Fellow — a postdoctoral student on a two-year appointment — but must find two departments in the existing structure for the Fellow to be involved in. The Fellow would focus on Asian-American studies within those departments. This may be discussed at the committee’s upcoming second meeting.
Chung, who could not be reached by press time, will be the third professor to teach “The Asian American Experience.”
According to American Studies chair Prof. Thomas Doherty (AMST) in an email to the Justice, the founder of American Studies at the University — Lawrence Fuchs — taught the first course on the Asian American Experience in the 1980s. The University hired an assistant professor to carry on the class when Fuchs retired, but when she left the University “five or six years ago,” the University did not replace the position despite repeated requests by the American Studies department, according to Doherty.
He described the field as “vital to an understanding of American culture.”
Doherty wrote that he consulted with “several local experts in the field” when searching for a professor for the course and said Chung’s name was “first on the list.” Chung also met with some committee members and students “as a courtesy,” according to Doherty. He wrote that American Studies is “delighted to be offering the course and we hope Mr. Chung’s hiring signals a renewed commitment to the field of Asian American studies on the part of the administration.”
Julie Ruiz ’17, BAATF’s vice president, said on Monday that BAATF hopes to work toward establishing an Asian-American Studies Center and diversifying faculty in the future.
An earlier version of this article misstated that the founder of American Studies was named Thomas Fuchs. His name was Lawrence Fuchs.