Open Letter: Reappropriate Supports the Asian American Studies Working Group at Duke University

Duke University Chapel (Photo credit: Flickr / David Ho)

For several years, students at Duke University have been working tirelessly to implement an Asian American Studies Program for students. The campus, which includes an undergraduate population that is nearly 30% Asian American or Pacific Islander, still does not offer an Asian American Studies major.

Student activists have repeatedly petitioned that the administration do something to address campus climate with regard to Asian American students. The hostile on-campus environment for Asian American students was demonstrated in 2013 when a fraternity, Kappa Sigma, held an anti-Asian themed party which included a really racist publicity email and party-goers dressed in geisha-gear, coolie hats, and other forms of costumed yellowface.

Since 2013 (and indeed, since much earlier), Asian American students at Duke have pointed out that an Asian American Studies program and major would go a long way towards addressing a campus climate that would allow a frat to organize a racist, anti-Asian costume party in the first place.

However, in the years since 2013, the administration has dragged its feet on the topic of Asian American Studies, claiming that there is insufficient student interest on-campus to warrant a major. However, the editorial board of the on-campus student newspaper, The Chronicle, responded to this charge, saying:

A new program of study would help Duke’s many Asian-American students develop their own racial identity and give interested students an opportunity to learn what they currently have to glean from Asian Studies courses. While not every field of academic study or research necessarily deserves a department or program of study, the relevance of this area to students is clear and has time and time again been brought up. A lack of current student interest may not be indicative of actually low interest levels but a dearth of opportunities for students and incentives for professors who need to teach in extant areas. Political commentary aside about what this would mean for Asian-American activists, this move has legitimate academic appeal.

It is clear that an Asian American Studies major is necessary at Duke University, as it is necessary at all colleges and universities. To that end, Reappropriate supports the work of the Asian American Studies Working Group at Duke University who have been working to institute an Asian American Studies major on-campus.

Last month, I drafted the following letter to the president of Duke University, outlining Reappropriate’s support. The text of the open letter below (or you can download it as a .pdf here.) This letter has now been sent by email and by post to President Price’s office.

President Vincent E. Price
Duke University
207 Allen Building, Box 90001
Durham, NC 27708
[email protected]

September 19, 2017

Dear Dr. Price,

As founder and editor of Reappropriate – one of the Asian American community’s foremost online outlets for writing on race and gender theory – I write this letter in enthusiastic support of the Asian American Studies Working Group at Duke University, and I urge your university administration to take immediate steps to create an Asian American Studies program at Duke University.

We live in troubled times when racial divisiveness bred of ignorance and hate has once more become normalized in mainstream American politics. Institutions of higher education such as Duke are uniquely positioned to affect this situation by signaling your strong commitment to ethnic studies programs, particularly in North Carolina where unfortunately the injury of racial violence remains far too salient.

Currently, more than one-quarter of Duke University students self-identify as Asian American; yet, Duke still lacks an Asian American Studies Program. Creation of such a program would have profound benefits to both Asian American and non-Asian American students. Ethnic studies programs enable education on people of color’s history as well as contemporary racial identity – topics not comprehensively covered in traditional American history, sociology, or political science classes – and access to such curricula is valuable for all enrolled students. In addition, ethnic studies programs create space for student organizing and community-building activities, which greatly improves student wellness, increases student safety, and enhances overall campus climate. Duke University has a responsibility to its Asian American students as well as to all of its students to make these resources available. Peer institutions that have already implemented Asian American Studies have found those programs often thrive, and are highly popular among students. Graduates of existing Asian American Studies programs – including myself – cite these classes as positive, formative components of our undergraduate college experiences.

For the last two decades, Asian American students, staff, and faculty have worked tirelessly at Duke and across the country to implement Asian American Studies at this nation’s colleges and universities. I ask that Duke University take a leadership role in this fight by creating a robust Asian American Studies Program at Duke. To that end, I wholeheartedly support the demands of the Asian American Studies Working Group at Duke, and I urge you to do the same.


Jenn Fang, Ph.D.

Founder / Editor, Reappropriate

Please check out the Asian American Studies Working Group Facebook page or follow them on Twitter (@DukeAASWG) to learn more about the effort to bring Asian American Studies to Duke, and to find out ways you can help to support that work.

It’s time to step the fuck up for AAPI Studies, folks. We need these programs on our college campuses.

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