“I have never seen myself represented in my education. Ever,” said Megan Wang ’20. “When will I get to see myself, Vassar?”
Wang is one of the organizing members of the movement to improve and expand the Asian American Studies Program at Vassar. Asian American Studies is currently only a correlate, and is understaffed, underfunded and lacking in courses. Although students have been appealing to the administration to obtain more courses and professors in Asian American Studies for years, the fight has been ultimately unsuccessful, as Vassar claims that the College does not have enough money to hire more professors to teach the specialized classes students desire. However, a dedicated group of Vassar students has decided to take their education into their own hands.
The Vassar Asian American Studies Working Group, comprised of about 30 students, is split into various subcommittees, including Alumni Outreach, Institutional Memory and a Visual Media Campaign. Each group tackles a particular portion of the work that they hope will lead to garnering allies and resources.
Jenny Luo ’20 said of her experience as part of the Topics and Syllabi Committee, “We’ve been searching through the Asian and Asian American programs at other schools to help us establish what we would like Vassar to have [and] contacting the heads of the department to learn more about programs we hope to emulate and are hoping to hear some feedback.” Janrey Serapio ’20, part of the Alumni Outreach Committee, explained, “[The Alumni Outreach Committee has been] creating content to send out to alumni that highlights our activism and keeps them aware about our mission.”
Assistant Professor of Sociology and Science, Technology and Society Long Bui enthusiastically supports these efforts. A former Asian American Studies major himself, Bui understands the desire for representation in academia. “Asian American Studies spoke to me because there were all these faculty who not only looked like me, but they also taught me things that were ‘taboo’ or they couldn’t teach in other places,” he recalled. Bui noted that he is one of the only professors at Vassar versed in Asian American Studies. Bui admits that he feels pulled in many directions: while he would love to teach more on the lives and experiences of Asian Americans, he also is obligated to teach the classes within his own departments. “I would love to teach a class on Asian American history; it’s very important to know why we are even here. Another cool one would be Asian American pop culture, because Asian Americans don’t get to see themselves in pop culture.”
Acting Director of the Asian American Studies Program Fubing Su also noted his hopes and concerns for the future of Asian American Studies at Vassar. Su noted that while there is currently an Asian American Studies correlate at Vassar, not many students choose to pursue it for a number of reasons. “There are not a lot of courses available, and a lot of courses are not specifically related to [the] Asian diaspora,” he explained. “Depending on who’s on leave, some courses might not be offered.” Su said that while he would love for the Asian American Studies correlate to expand into something larger and more sustainable, he does not see this happening in the near future. “As a program, we would love the College to make an effort,” he said. “But if students want to make a separate department, they must have more faculty. At this moment, I’m not really sure if that’s financially realistic for the college.”
President Bradley backs up this statement. While she said she is open to expanding the Asian American Studies correlate, she also commented, “This takes much planning and consensus building with faculty leadership to be successful.” She added, “Having a more comprehensive Asian [American] Studies Department requires additional faculty resources and a clear vision of the curriculum that has broad support from the faculty and adequate resources to support it.”
Wang is unfazed by the administration’s financial concerns. “It’s ridiculous,” she said. “There are a lot of people saying there is not enough money going around, but there is money … Charles Kim [’92] said he gives a great deal of money to the annual fund but if he knew that the institution claims they do not have enough money to provide us with an education we desire, he would donate more directly.” She added that the demands of the Asian American Studies Working Group are not unreasonable. “What we are asking for is not radical,” she said. “All we want, at this point, [are] two courses taught by a person of color who knows what they are talking about.”
Spencer DiPasquale McGrath ’21 spoke to his reasons for joining the movement, explaining, “Historically, Asian Americans have experienced a lack of representation in many aspects of life in a way that is often not discussed. I think that students deserve to know about Asian American history in our country to dismantle the consistent association of Asian Americans with ‘foreignness.’”
“I’m excited about this campaign because I think it’s an opportunity for Vassar to achieve concrete academic change and begin to address the need for an inclusive education,” added Tamika Whitenack ’21. “Improving our Asian Studies [program] can benefit everybody in the Vassar community, and we want everybody to be involved—students and faculty from all backgrounds, alumni, administrators.”
The Asian American Studies Working Group is determined as ever and is only growing in numbers. A large group of students met with President Bradley on Feb. 18 to discuss their plans to expand and improve the Asian Studies program and plans on meeting with the Committee on Curricular Policy in the upcoming week. Professor Bui enthusiastically supports these plans, adding, “There is no school that has these courses without student activism.”
Wang added that there are many ways for other members of the Vassar community to get involved in the movement. “The Asian American Studies Working Group meets every Friday in the Jetson Lounge at 5:30,” she said. “We would appreciate any and all help.”
To follow the group’s proceedings as its members fight for more representation in courses, students can find the Vassar Asian American Studies Working Group on Facebook. To help out with the cause, email [email protected]