But is there money in the budget?
By Amy Phan
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Kayomi Wada graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma (UWT) in the spring of 2008, she intended to pursue her master’s degree there as well, hoping to expand on her interests in Asian American (AA) and Black communities in North and South America.
Being half Japanese, Wada recounts perusing the course list only to find out that there were African American studies but no courses exclusively dedicated to AA studies.
“I was just waiting for [AA] courses to come up, but they never did,” she said.
As a result, she’s had to commute by bus, for up to an hour and a half during heavy traffic, to UW Seattle to pursue AA studies.
Confused by the lack of AA curriculum, she began asking UWT administration about how to get these courses taught.
Wada’s inquiries have since resulted in the involvement of Peter Bacho, a lecturer on a yearly contract at UWT, who submitted two approved courses on AA literature and history.
Bacho, who is Filipino American and has taught similar classes at other universities, thought the courses to be “standard fare in any Asian American studies program.”
Even though the courses have been approved for fall 2009, UWT director of external relations Mike Wark says the final decision will depend on the fiscal state budget for higher education in 2009–2010, which should be released by the end of April. The fiscal year begins July 1.
Gov. Christine Gregoire froze hiring for this fiscal year and as a result, UWT has put a hiring freeze on new faculty. Wark says that new contracts for next year have not been offered.
The university has estimated $3.66 million will be cut from the 2009–2011 budgets if Gregoire’s 15.2 percent reduction from higher education proposal is approved.
“We would like to include these two courses; however, we cannot know for sure until we see what our budget looks like for next year,” said Wark.
Wada’s efforts has generated interests from API leaders including Asia Pacific Cultural Center founder Patsy O’Connell and Pio DeCano Jr., son of a pioneering Filipino American Seattle labor leader.
In a letter responding to individuals concerned about AA studies, Chancellor Patricia Spakes said, “Given the anticipated 20 percent reduction in state funding for next year, we expect that we will have to lay off support staff in order to hire faculty to teach required courses.”
Wada said she has heard of the budget constraints issue since approaching the UWT administration in early fall.
“While it (the budget) is a huge factor in things, it’s like ‘When is there ever money for AA studies?’ There are always going to be something here and there that could use extra funds. But AA studies is American history, and we need to treat it as such,” she said.
Tacoma and Asian Americans
Tacoma, the only major West Coast city in the U.S. without a Chinatown, used to be home to many Chinese workers and families. But in 1885, hundreds of men — including the city’s mayor — violently forced about 200 immigrant Chinese out of Tacoma to the nearby railroad station, in addition to the 400 Chinese who also fled just a few days prior to the incident. Many escaped to Portland, Ore., or sailed to Victoria B.C.
Called “The Tacoma Method,” it was applauded as one of the most successful ways of exiling the Chinese since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Tacoma Method took place about a mile from where UWT is located.
“The history of Tacoma cannot be told without reference to its lack of a Chinatown and the history of Chinese Americans,” addressed Wada in an e-mail to the director of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences (IAS). “We could learn about this stuff where it happened.”
In 2004, UWT demolished the Japanese Language School, a registered historic site in Tacoma, as part of the university’s expansion plans. In reverence of the school, UWT anticipated building a memorial garden. However, plans have since stalled due to the lack of funding.
“There’s about $2 million that still needs to be raised to build the garden,” said Wark.
“It’s very important to get AA studies at the UWT since the demolition of the Japanese Language School because mainstream culture might soon forget about the history and experience of APIs in Tacoma,” said O’Connell.
UWT started in fall 1990 with 176 students — all junior and senior transfer students mostly from surrounding community colleges — and about a dozen faculty members, said IAS director Cheryl Greengrove.
Since then, it has expanded to 3,000 students and has become a four-year university. The growth has been exciting, said Greengrove. However, it has also been challenging to ensure resources for incoming students.
“We still need a lot of the basic courses of a university, such as expanding languages and sciences. We also need to expand our ethnic and Native American studies,” said Greengrove.
Greengrove pointed out the fact that UWT offers a minor in Asian studies and that there are numerous courses within the IAS department that discuss AA studies.
Encompassed within the IAS is an Ethnic, Gender, and Labor concentration, which offers Native American, African American, Latino, and Indian classes. The program also offers several courses devoted to issues in Asia, with topics ranging from modern day China, Japan, and Korea to Identity and Media in Asia.
Still, Wada remains unsure why UWT doesn’t have courses fully dedicated to AA studies.
According to the university survey compiled during fall 2008, Asian Americans made up 25 percent of the UWT student body.
As the largest ethnic minority at UWT, Wada said she believed courses devoted to AA studies would generate “a lot of interest from students and community members.”
“I didn’t understand why ethnic studies included basically every minority except AA studies,” she said. “That’s not okay.”
The next steps
Wada said she will continue to actively work on getting AA studies on the university’s curriculum by organizing various API events around and on campus.
Greengrove says that Wada has been the only student she’s heard directly from regarding the development of AA studies at UWT.
Despite an uncertain future, UWT officials are looking into more talks and meetings with the community and student body.
“The issue of getting AA studies is very high on our list of priorities. If it doesn’t come during fall, it will come sometime in the future. We are in a budget deficit, but it’s not forever, and there will be opportunities for continued growth in the future,” said Wark. ♦
Amy Phan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.