University students and alumni across the country are calling for more Asian American and Pacific Islander studies courses, majors and minors, tenured professors, and departments, some using the hashtags #Fight4AAS and #Fight4FacultyOfColor on social media.
As an academic discipline, Asian American and Pacific Islander studies was created after the 1968 and 1969 Third World Liberation Front student strikes at San Francisco State University and University of California, Berkeley, in which students of color demanded that their histories and experiences be taught in ethnic studies programs.
“The importance of Asian American studies is rooted in the desire to create a more democratic academy, one that takes seriously the world-view of race and ethnicity in the U.S.,” Trinity College history professor Vijay Prashad told NBC News. “How to understand the complex hierarchy of racial power in America without close study?”
However, students today argue that almost 50 years later, Asian American and Pacific Islander studies still struggles for legitimacy, faculty, and funding on many university campuses.
At Cornell University, which already has an Asian American studies minor, the Cornell Student Assembly recently passed a resolution calling for an Asian American studies major and for making the Cornell Asian American Studies Program a full academic department.
"We were the administrative center for Asian American Studies on the East Coast, but now we're currently a program that offer only three classes this upcoming Fall 2016 semester, a record-low number of classes since the program's inception," Cornell student and member of Asian Pacific Americans for Action at Cornell Emily Dong told NBC News. "Even with decreased resources and lower course count, the course enrollment has increased in AASP — the student demand for Asian American Studies is clear.”
Students also say that university curriculum should reflect the diversity and needs of their community and student body.
The Asian American Studies Program at Hunter College was founded in 1993 in response to student and faculty demands, and it is the only interdisciplinary Asian American studies program in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Students say that the college currently offers more Asian American studies courses than any other campus in CUNY, about 12 to 15 courses per semester.
“However, after nearly 25 years, the program is only able to offer a minor and has one full-time, non-tenure-track faculty who directs the program; all other faculty are adjuncts,” Kevin Park, Hunter College student and Coalition for the Revitalization of Asian American Studies at Hunter (CRAASH) member told NBC News. “As Asian-American students in New York City, home to the largest urban Asian American population in the U.S., we feel our universities have a responsibility to provide us with an education and resources that reflect the demographics of both the city and its students. In order for CUNY to truly reflect the ‘diverse’ city of New York, it should focus on strengthening an inclusive campus and educational system that serves over 50,000 Asian-American students, the vast majority of whom are first-generation college students from English language learner backgrounds.”
Students at other universities — including Harvard, Yale, and Brandeis — are currently urging university administrators to create Asian American and Pacific Islander studies programs. On other campuses, faculty who specialize in Asian American studies and ethnic studies such as Dartmouth College English professor Aimee Bahng often have to fight for tenure.
At Northwestern University, the importance of Asian American studies was underlined when an Asian American studies major was finally approved this spring, 20 years after a 23-day student hunger strike that launched the creation of an Asian American studies minor in 1995.
“While there is still ground left to cover for Asian American studies at Northwestern, our major demonstrates that the advancement of ethnic studies is both possible and necessary at higher ed institutions,” Northwestern University student Kevin Luong told NBC News.