Students submit Asian American studies proposal

As promised at a teach-in Monday night, students submitted a proposal to key University administrators Wednesday asking them to establish an Asian American studies department.

The proposal, authored by junior Christina Hsu and senior Tony Kwon, argues that such a department would enhance Duke's intellectual atmosphere and provide valuable insights into issues of race and ethnicity in America.

Hsu and Kwon's proposal is the result of an Asian American literature class project that collected more than 1,000 student signatures and organized Monday's teach-in on the issue.

The document--sent to President Nan Keohane, Provost Peter Lange, Dean of Trinity College Robert Thompson and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe--laid out a timetable for the University to hire a director, recruit faculty and grant Asian American studies departmental status.

"We really feel that Asian American studies brings new paradigms of thought," Hsu said. "It transforms the way we look at things, especially diverse topics. Imagine reading American lit without any black authors. That was the case before students demanded an African American studies department."

Chafe said he, Thompson and Karla Holloway, dean of the humanities and social sciences, met with student leaders about the issue today and would take a couple weeks to contemplate and respond to the proposal.

"It is going to take some time to read it and formulate a response," Thompson wrote in an e-mail.

Hsu said she expected a response April 24. "We'll see if the administration is really committed to improving the University academically," she said.

The proposal argues that universities have historically ignored minorities'--and in particular Asians'--effect on American culture in their core departments. "It demands a move from a Eurocentric view of the world, toward a more equitable, inclusive and open-minded perspective, in order to effectively reflect the diversity within modern American society," the document reads.

According to the proposal's timeline, the University would host a symposium this fall on Asian-American issues, inviting several scholars to lecture on the paradigms of the field. And during the period between the spring 2003 and fall 2004 semesters, the University would hire a director for the department as well as three full-time professors.

By spring 2003, the proposal calls for a curriculum to be developed, which would include core courses and specialized courses in both comparative Asian and Asian American studies as well as courses in science and technology, social science and public policy.

Although Hsu said it may be infeasible to make Asian American studies a department immediately, she explained it must have departmental status, rather than that of a program--which does not have its own budget or a dedicated faculty--to guarantee course stability. "This year there are two Asian American lit classes, but if you look at next year there are absolutely no courses offered," she said.

The proposal predicted that by the department's fifth year it would attract 50 full-time and 20 part-time students. Hsu said these estimates were based on current course enrollments and growth of such programs at other universities.

Senior Jennifer Oh, who is in the Asian American literature class that hosted the teach-in, said the department would be a tool to fight racism. She added that although she had found a positive response from administrators, students would be willing to protest, perhaps staging an Allen Building takeover, if the administration did not grant their request.

"I think if students meet with resistance from the administration... this would definitely foster strong enough feelings for those things to happen," she said. "I was thinking the other day some sort of march would be really cool."

Gary Okihiro, director of Columbia University's Center for the Studies of Ethnicity and Race, which includes programs in both Latino and Asian American studies, said Columbia agreed to create a center following student strikes.

"I think [guilt] was the initial impulse--it was a compromise regarding that strike," he said. "But I think they have come to see the value of it."

Although Okihiro said Asian American studies greatly contributed to academe, he warned that Duke administrators should only grant a program if they themselves see it as worthwhile. "I don't think that one should give it as a kind of paternal gift--I don't think it should be out of guilt," he said.


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