Q&A with the Penn Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and ECAASU is highlighting movers and shakers today striving to foster change within the Asian American community. This week, we're asking the University of Pennsylvania's Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board about their experiences fighting for Asian American Studies on their campus and how they celebrate APAHM.

Tell us about yourself and the group you’re representing.

The Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board (ASAM UAB) at the University of Pennsylvania is a student group that works closely with the academic program to plan various events, conferences, and program-related initiatives. We strive to make the program more accessible and present for students in addition to maximizing the support we receive from the university. Currently, we have 12 students from all years on our UAB led by our wonderful co-chairs, rising seniors, Daniel Chung and Lindsey Lui, and advised by the Associate Director of the ASAM program, Dr. Fariha Khan.

Can you tell us about the mission of UPenn’s ASAM UAB and what you all advocate?

Our ASAM UAB advocates for increased support and resources for all ethnic studies programs at Penn and other universities. We encourage students to enroll in our courses that activists fought tirelessly to provide for us and to learn the history of our people, both academically and independently. In the future, we hope to expand the role of our UAB in engaging with other students and student groups by having book recommendations, student and faculty spotlights, and so much more!

What’s happening right now with Asian American Studies at UPenn?

Founding faculty member of the ASAM program, Dr. Grace Kao has recently taken a new position at Yale University, leaving a vacancy within our program for an instructor in sociology to teach one of the three core ASAM courses. With Dr. Kao’s departure, faltering support from the University, and insufficient administrative support for Associate Director Dr. Khan, our program has been in danger of dissolving. This has been shocking for many of our students, who have feared that they may be unable to complete, or even begin their minor in Asian American Studies. As a result, our UAB organized a petition that accrued more than 1,200 signatures from around the world, multiple articles in our student newspaper (The Daily Pennsylvanian), and a rally attended by more than 60 students demanding more support from the University for our program.

What struggles have you faced in advocating for Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania? 

One of our biggest struggles in advocating for our ASAM program at Penn has been navigating the complex bureaucracy of the university. As students, we’re so much less familiar with the inner workings of university hiring, budgeting, and administration, so figuring out the most effective methods and times to make our demands required a lot of planning. Additionally, it’s hard to coordinate meetings with high-level academic officers and administrators as a board of 12 people, so we’ve all had to stay up to date with our program’s issues while juggling classes, other extracurriculars, and our personal lives. As a board, we had very minimal practical experience in activism and organizing, making us all very uncertain about the effectiveness of our methods, but we think that we’ve won some great victories so far. Funny enough, some of our board members learned activism and organizing techniques from Asian American studies and other ethnic studies courses.

What are your hopes for ASAM at UPenn in the future?

We hope that we can find more administrative support for our program, more physical space for our students and faculty, an increase in our course offerings, a sociologist to take over for Dr. Kao in our ASAM program, a more active community, and an expanded program.

How can the community support your mission?

Please support us by signing our petition, liking our Facebook page, and keeping up to date with our program and our actions. If you’re a college student or staff/faculty member, please get involved with your local Asian American studies program or task force and support other ethnic studies programs on your campus.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month--why is this month important to recognize and celebrate?

APAHM is important in recognizing APAs as legitimate in a country that doesn’t always do the same. It’s not just about celebrating our successes and contributions to the United States, but includes acknowledging the struggles and hardships that our community has gone through and continues to experience. We are fortunate to have a dedicated period of time to learn about our histories of resistance as a minoritized and underprivileged community in the United States, but we should be mindful to not limit ourselves to one government-sanctioned month of celebration! 

How do you celebrate APAHM?

We celebrate APAHM by celebrating our APA heroes. We celebrate not just those who are immortalized in history books, but also those who have been forgotten. We celebrate those close to us―our families, our friends, our mentors―who don’t always get the appreciation they deserve. We celebrate by learning and sharing our history, a history that usually goes untold in traditional American history books. And lastly, we celebrate by being unapologetically APA.