Nearly two decades ago, in 1995, members of the Asian-American Alumni Association for Princeton (A4P) staged a sit-in demonstration at Nassau Hall, protesting the lack of Asian-American and Latino studies programs at the University. In response to this demonstration, University administrators promised additional professorships and increased academic focus in both areas.
Since then, little progress has been made in establishing an Asian-American studies program. On Feb. 18, however, the University’s ad hoc committee on diversity held a meeting with representatives of the Asian-American Students Association (AASA) in attendance. There, members of AASA called for efforts by the administration to devote additional resources to Asian-American studies. The agenda of the meeting included an analysis of the University’s attitude towards the Asian-American community, as well as how to encourage and increase the Asian-American presence in Princeton’s teaching faculty and senior administrative staff. A major point in the committee’s discussion about the institutional climate for Asian-Americans at Princeton was the University’s lack of an Asian-American studies program . While the sit-in protest in 1995 triggered the eventual creation of a Latino studies program in 2009, no such development has yet occurred for Asian-American studies.
The Editorial Board maintains that the establishment of an Asian-American studies program is long overdue. Firstly, a program dedicated to Asian-American studies can markedly increase awareness of the goings-on in the Asian-American community — campus-wide events focused on the evolution of Asian-American culture, such as a speaker series, can be organized by members of the department. Second, a department focused on Asian-American culture can serve as a forum in which any student could study and discuss the subject with specialized faculty and students. Third, a structured major or academic program in the subject can prove valuable for students interested in pursuing Asian-American Studies as a focus of their academics at Princeton. Finally, the creation of an academic program devoted to Asian American studies would be a powerful signal of the University’s commitment to diversity both among its students and its scholarly priorities.
Fortunately, creating a program in Asian-American Studies would not be prohibitively difficult. When determining whether a new program should be established, the University administrators look for student and faculty interest and the depth of scholarly knowledge in the topic. In this case, all criteria could be met. A petition supporting a proposal, entitled “Building Asian-American Studies at Princeton University” and written by English and African-American studies professor Anne Cheng and cosigned by Director of American Studies Hendrick Hartog and Director of the Program in Creative Writing Chang-Rae Lee, received over 600 signatures. Additionally, courses suited to the new program have been in development. In fact, a course taught by Professor Cheng last semester, ENG 224: Asian American Literature and Cultures, may be considered one of the first classes in the past several years to focus on an Asian-American subject matter. Professor Cheng already has a “gateway class” for Asian-American studies in the works, called Too Cute: America’s New Asia-mania. These considerations suggest that some of the infrastructure is already in place to support the creation of a larger Asian-American studies program.
Yet, there is also a need for more professorships and an increase in academic resources for the development of Asian-American studies as a new program. Though each of these was promised 18 years ago, action taken thus far has been inadequate. To help accelerate the process, AASA has put forth proposals to create a searchable course label for Asian-American studies on the registrar’s website that would allow students to locate courses with subject matter relevant to Asian-American studies, providing the option for professors to teach such courses, and increasing the Asian-American faculty’s presence in the administration. Though improved faculty power may be a more long-term, gradual goal, a course label and fundamental skeleton for the new program should be put in place rapidly. The steps outlined by AASA seem clear and reasonable, the benefits of a new program would be far-reaching, and adequate demand exists. It is thus up to the administration to do what it could and should have been done years ago in this important academic field.
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