This week, students are banding together, calling themselves Asian Pacific Americans for Action (APAA) at Cornell University, and demanding that Asian American Studies, Latino/a Studies, and American Indian studies are offered as majors by the end of 2016. The campaign, thus far, involves a student assembly meeting scheduled March 10, a petition of support, and a letter to the Cornell administration.
We commend these efforts! In light of recent events concerning stereotypical characterizations of Asian Americans in mainstream culture (such as during the Oscars telecast), it’s encouraging to see young Asian Americans advocate for themselves in this way.
In their letter (bit.ly/1RAAetQ), APAA states that while interest in Asian American studies has grown, Cornell’s Asian American Studies Program is understaffed and under-researched, relative to other Cornell programs.
According to the letter, “A lack in the breadth of courses available due to insufficient resources greatly reduces the program’s ability to attract and retain students. … In the upcoming 2016 – 2017 academic year, a record low of only 3 courses will be taught in the fall semester by only 2 faculty members already burdened by other responsibilities.”
According to its website, more than 39 percent of Cornell undergrad students are foreign nationals, Latino Americans, American Indians, Black Americans, Asian Americans, or identified themselves in more than one racial/ethnic group. According to the APAA letter, almost 25 percent of Cornell is Asian or Asian American.
This petition is not without its detractors.
In the Cornell Review, a publication that admits to aligning with “conservative or libertarian principles,” Casey Breznick, a regular contributor, wrote, “If Cornell were to create an Asian-American Studies major, it would be almost irresponsible: allowing parents/students to pay $60,000+ a year to take classes in, basically, what it means to be Asian-American. The curriculum can be learned by befriending an Asian-American.”
Breznick adds insult to injury by going on to say, “In fact, if students do want to learn about the Asian world, they can already major in or take classes in the highly successful China and Asia-Pacific Studies department at Cornell.”
Breznick’s opinion piece actually perfectly highlights exactly why well-funded Asian American studies programs are important to have at colleges. These classes not only explore the diverse and extensive histories of Asian diaspora — they also teach students obvious stuff, like how Asians and Asian Americans are not actually culturally identical. They probably also teach students that you can’t really learn hundreds of years of complex histories from many different ethnic groups by being friends with an Asian American.
Sign the petition and help the APAA out! (end)