The Brandeis Asian American Task Force is circulating a petition calling for the creation of a faculty position in Pacific Islander Studies, which would be filled by Prof. Leanne Day (GRALL). Day, a Pacific Islander, is currently finishing her second year of the Florence Levy Kay Fellowship in Asian American Pacific Islander Studies.

The petition is addressed to University President Ron Liebowitz, Dean of Arts and Sciences Dorothy L. Hodgson, Provost Lisa M. Lynch, Trustee Curtis Tearte ’73 and the Board of Trustees Academy Committee. In the span of two days, it gathered signatures from 293 students and faculty, 16 alumni, 17 clubs — including the South East Asian Club and the Asian American Students Association — and 125 other concerned parties.

In a March 4 email to the Justice, Hodgson said she only learned of the petition Monday morning. She also provided a copy of a letter she sent to Olivia Nichols ’20, one of the 10 original petitioners. In it, she praised Day for her “excellence as a teacher and scholar, and her demonstrated contributions,” and that she is seriously considering the possibility of hiring her and hopes to make a decision early this week. Hodgson explained, however, that resources are currently scarce, and that she has been trying to identify funds “in a time of budget constraint.” 

Currently, Brandeis has an East Asian Studies program, and since 2015, the number of Asian American faculty has increased from 31 to 37, according to a Dec. 4, 2018 article in the Justice. In 2016, the BAATF penned an open letter urging Liebowitz to create such a program and to hire new faculty to lead it. The BAATF petition says that the creation of an additional position that is “focused on issues faced specifically by Pacific Islanders” would “better serve students, and ensure the success of [the Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies program] in the making.” 

The petitioners recognized the efforts the University made in hiring Prof. Yuri Doolan (HIST) as a tenure-track assistant professor, but raised concerns about the “great burden” that single-handedly building a program would place on Doolan, who specializes in Asian-American studies.

Though the petitioners wrote that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders “rightly share many commonalities, and often overlap” with each other, they stressed that the University “cannot create an Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies program if [they] do not have the representation for Pacific Islander Studies.” Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders make up 0.1 percent of the undergraduate and graduate student population, according to University enrollment data.

Day is integral in maintaining the representation of Pacific Islanders, according to the petitioners. They praise Day for showing “us the importance of recognizing our own histories, and the validity of our place in American society.” They add that Day’s “deep emotional intelligence” has made her a common moderator and attendee of numerous talks, such as the aforementioned ’DEIS Impact panel. 

Signatories believe “Dr. Day will not only improve the establishment of this academic program, but that her retention will be an asset in attracting future students who share Brandeis’ belief in learning and leading,” according to the petition. Additionally, they call on the University to “step up as a leader” and educate the academic world on the history of Pacific Islanders, who have been “excluded from academia for far too long.”