Alumni Support Is Critical for Asian American Studies Programs
Asian American studies thrives with the support of the AAPI alumni community. Read more to learn what it will take to sustain these programs.
In recent years, Asian American alumni have advocated for the continued funding and development of Asian American studies (AAS) programs. This renewed call for support comes after a recent spike in hate crimes against the AAPI community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) alumni from some of the nation's most recognizable institutions have addressed open letters to their alma maters requesting more representation in schools' academic offerings. In October 2021, Harvard alumni wrote a letter to the school and donated $45 million to improve the institution's Asian American studies program. The alumni worked hard to secure millions of dollars in donations because they understand AAS programs' critical role in preparing students to enter a diverse world.
What Is Asian American Studies?
In 1969, a student movement at the University of California, Berkeley — called the third world Liberation Front — demanded that the school create a department focusing on the histories of people of color. As a result, UC Berkeley started its department of ethnic studies. Following UC Berkeley's lead, institutions like San Francisco State University and the University of California, Los Angeles, began adding ethnic studies courses to their curricula. At some schools, this led to the establishment of Asian American studies programs.
In 1987, Cornell University created the first AAS program in the Ivy League; from there, other Ivies followed suit. The creation of these programs at Ivy League institutions compelled state universities to establish similar courses of study to demonstrate their inclusivity and provide diversity programming for students.
According to the Association for Asian American Studies, 32 universities currently offer AAS degree programs. And an even greater number of colleges offer Asian American studies as a minor. Asian American studies was founded as an interdisciplinary field that helped give voice to the AAPI community.
Today, Asian American studies programs continue to uphold that mission. These programs also work to create spaces for new issues as they arise, such as issues of migration, identity, power, and equity.
The field of AAS allows the AAPI community to respond to the exclusions and misrepresentations inherent when an outsider writes another's history. Today, Asian American studies programs continue to uphold that mission. These programs also work to create spaces for new issues as they arise, such as issues of migration, identity, power, and equity.
Additionally, the field of Asian American studies has increasingly explored the complexity of the AAPI community as people of more nationalities gain representation in the United States. AAS programs also analyze the blending of various Asian cultures and highlight that Asian American identity is not a monolith.
How Alumni Support Asian American Studies
In the past 50 years, significant strides have been made in Asian American studies. Yet course offerings, the allotment of dedicated faculty positions, and — most importantly — funding have been lacking. Despite constant pressure from the growing Asian American student population, AAS programs still do not receive enough support.
Although interest in AAS programs has increased, many universities have not increased their AAS offerings. Even as enrolled students and alumni rally for additional investment in AAS programs each year, leaders at many higher education institutions are slow to act.
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Why This Matters for Education and Awareness
Although there has always been an undercurrent of support from alumni for Asian American studies programs at their alma maters, their voices made more of an impact in recent years due to the cultural climate. The significant increase in racially charged incidents against Asians has highlighted the lack of representation of the AAPI community in the U.S. Asian Americans' persistent advocacy for representation in higher education demonstrates how a minority community can push for institutional change and seize the moment when opportunity strikes.
According to NBC News, the Stop AAPI Hate movement began in February 2020. The movement gained momentum due to the increased media coverage of AAPI communities after the Atlanta spa shootings in March of 2021. With the steady stream of pressure from AAPI folks, strong ally support, and dozens of media headlines, the timing is ripe for universities to show more support for AAS programs.
Due to increased violence against Asian people in recent years, more Americans have become concerned about the lack of representation for AAPI communities in higher education, despite the presence of some ethnic studies programs. Asian people were instrumental in the foundation of America, but they are still being excluded from many areas. AAPI immigrants who have traveled to the U.S. more recently also need an academic home for their histories and experiences.
Investing in Asian American studies programs is key to combating discrimination. There is a lot that Asian Americans and their allies can do to support these programs on university campuses. First, people must continue to voice the need for ethnic studies programs. Allyship within these groups is critical, as well. When different communities work together, they can more easily pressure universities when negotiating funding and seeking representation.
If they have the means, alumni and community members should also consider donating to universities with funds earmarked for Asian American studies programs. These donations will not only demonstrate to the university that alumni value these courses, but they can also help grow the programs themselves and fund future endeavors.
Finally, supporters can also help sustain this field of study by showing interest in the writings and scholarship of the AAPI community. You can educate yourself by reading about Angel Island — the Ellis Island of the West — or picking up the latest book by Celeste Ng. To learn about AAPI history and culture, you must invest time in listening to Asian voices.
We can cement the value of Asian American studies programs in our modern, global society through all of these actions.