Asian American Students to Brandeis University Administration: #WeNeedAAPIStudies!

December 4, 2015


Brandeis University is a research and liberal arts university located just west of Massachusetts, and currently serves an undergraduate student body of 3,600 young scholars. 12.7% of enrolled students are Asian American.

Earlier this year, Brandeis invited me to give the keynote address for their ECAASU campus tour. Before travelling to the school, I was informed by student organizers that students were interested in implementing an Asian American Studies program at the school. So, I decided to tailor my talk towards the need for more Asian American studies at our nation’s colleges and universities. Later after the workshops were done, the students pulled me aside to talk about what they might do to start a campaign around this issue, and I was deeply inspired by their passion and energy.

In an op-ed published last month in the school paper, Brandeis student Hin Hon (Jamie) Wong asked: “Why aren’t we learning about ourselves and our own collective past?”

Why, indeed.

Now, the Asian American students of Brandeis have mobilized with the creation of the Brandeis Asian American Task Force. Earlier this week, BAATF released a letter to their school’s administration, demanding a commitment to implement Asian American Studies at the school.

The students write:

We, the students at Brandeis University joined together in the Brandeis Asian American Task Force (BAATF) seek to lead the call and demand for an Asian American Studies Department at Brandeis University. At large, our aim is to advocate for the needs and betterment of the Asian American community here at Brandeis University. Today, we ask that Brandeis University commit to the creation, support, and sustainment of an Asian American Studies Department and Major.

In the words of Yuri Kochiyama, “Unless we know ourselves and our history, and other people and their history, there is really no way that we can really have [the] positive kind of interaction where there is real understanding.”

Brandeis University subscribes to a mission that emphasizes citizenship, diversity, and the pursuit of knowledge. We talk frequently of the importance of Social Justice, student activism, and seeking truth even unto its innermost parts. However, Brandeis students?—?particularly Asian American Brandeis students?—?currently have no access to the rich and unquestionably important history of Asian Americans. We are denied the opportunity to learn about ourselves and our collective past; we are unable to seek the truth of the complex relationships between our community and systems of oppression in America.

In the 1980s to the 1990s, countless groups of Asian American students came together on their campuses to call for Asian American studies programs. Student activists such as those at Northwestern University championed for these programs and the rights, needs, and interests of the Asian American student body. These are only a few pinpricks in the vast expanse of history that Asian Americans have in America; our political activism only covers a fraction of the wide and vibrant expanse of the Asian American identity, the barriers our community faces, and facets of our academic thought.

Education is more than a degree. Education can be a source of resistance and empowerment, inspiration and enrichment. But it can also manifest as suppression and an erasure of history and experience. To ignore the call for Asian American Studies is to create a flawed and oppressive curriculum; to deny Brandeis students the opportunity to pursue knowledge critical to the identity and advancement of Asian Americans is to contradict Brandeis’ mission.

We as Brandeis students cannot pursue a more socially just future as students, as individuals, without an understanding of the injustices of our past. We must not allow the denial and erasure of our past to continue.

Ultimately, we cannot subscribe to complacency any longer and our past, our history, shows that we are more than capable of rising up to make our voices heard.

Brandeis University’s commitment and enthusiasm towards diversity is meaningless if Brandeis does not truly act in manners that support its diverse student body. We ask that Brandeis University recognize the imminence and importance of our call for Asian American Studies and fulfill its obligation to us, as students and seekers of knowledge, to listen and provide.

Yes, yes, and yes. I wrote last month that it was time to step the fuck up for Asian American Studies, and this is exactly the kind of stuff I was talking about.

Before publishing their open letter, Brandeis’ Asian American Studies conducted a poll of the school’s students, and they found overwhelming support for an Asian American Studies program. Two-thirds of polled students said they would be interested in taking an introductory course in Asian American Studies; one-third said they would be interested in minoring in Asian American Studies if such a degree were offered. 84% expressed support for an Asian American student community centre, which has been shown to be integral for promoting the mental health and community ties of Asian American students.

The demands from Brandeis’ Asian American students are simple: 1) create an Asian American Studies Program, and 2) create a mechanism for hiring Asian American Studies faculty to participate in it. Students have given the administration of Brandeis University until December 9th to respond to their demands.

As that deadline looms, Brandeis University’s students need us to help them in this fight. Share their open letter to your social network. Sign this petition (even if you’re not a Brandeis student). Let Brandeis and every other leader of every other college and university know that our community will not be silent and complacent on the absence of Asian American studies programs at most of these schools.

Why? Because #WeNeedAAPIStudies. We deserve to know our history.

Read More: A Call for Asian American Studies (The Brandeis Hoot)

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