U approves funding for Asian-American studies

by Nancy Ngo

Although many of the University’s ethnic studies programs have been in existence for 25 years or more, the school is still without an Asian-American studies program. But that might change when the University starts offering classes in Asian-American studies this fall.
The University recently approved funding for a visiting professor to teach Asian-American studies courses next year. After years of lobbying and petitioning, many of those involved say the response is long overdue.
“It’s in the budget for the first time that the University wants to fund Asian-American studies classes,” said David Roediger, chairman of the Program in American Studies and professor in the Department of History.
Roediger, who recruited a professor from another university to teach the courses, said hiring a new faculty member does not necessarily mean a program will be established. But he sees the move as an advance toward something more permanent. “We clearly see it as a first step towards having some type of Asian-American studies at the University — whether it’s a department or a program,” he said.
Carolyn Nayematsu, program director of the Asian/Pacific-American Learning Resource Center, has been involved in efforts to get a program in place for the last five years. She said the efforts have been successful as well as disappointing.
Nayematsu said lobbying and petitioning efforts were met with enthusiasm by administrators, but have not translated into funds.
“We get some support and then we don’t get support,” she said. “Or else the University or (the College of Liberal Arts) will have another priority.”
Unlike many ethnic studies programs that already exist at the University, an Asian-American studies program was never in as much demand as it is now, Nayematsu added.
East Asian groups have the fastest-growing population in the Twin Cities area today, according to Dan Detzner, associate dean in the College of Human Ecology. The East Asian population — Cambodians, Laotians, Hmong and Vietnamese — has grown from 1,600 in the 1970s to 20,000 in the 1990s.
Nayematsu said many students are interested in establishing a program. She said she knows of one student who is transferring out of the University because it has no Asian-American studies program.
Franco Cusipag, a freshman majoring in biology, has volunteered to organize panels by the Asian-American Student Cultural Center to discuss the possibility of such a program. Though offering courses is a step in the right direction, he said, the struggle will still be a long one.
“It’s going real slow,” Cusipag said. “Right now we’re trying to get more interest among the Asian-American community.”
Roediger said students are the most influential, so they must push to establish a program or department.
“Apparently, they were very close to winning before, but there was no funding,” Roediger said. “I think there’s a significant amount of student pressure that sets this apart from other times. It would be hard for an administrator not to know that students want an Asian-American studies program.”
Visiting professors will not make a difference in forming some type of program, but they will help to focus it.
In the case of Asian-American studies, the visiting professor could help evaluate and advise how best to implement a program, according to Josephine Lee, a professor in the Department of English who has been involved in the efforts.
A visiting professor could also serve as an example for more hiring prospects. “We will talk about future possibilities,” Lee said. “And that includes permanent hires. If that goes well, we might not only have one professor, but many in the following years.”