Katherine Coetzer ’23, Staff Writer
On Wednesday, October 17th, the Asian American Initiative (AAI) released their demands for more educational opportunities that focus on the lack of awareness surrounding the marginalization of Asian Americans as part of their advocacy for an Asian American Studies department on campus.
These demands include hiring Asian American specialists to begin building an Asian American Studies program, as well as the establishment of an Asian American Studies minor by spring 2021 and major by fall 2023. Additionally, AAI calls for a support system for Asian American students through the hiring of more Asian American professors, an amendment of the STRIDE program to make it more supportive of Asian American students and the strengthening of the Asian American Alumni Network. Finally, the AAI requests greater representation of Asian Americans in senior administrative faculty and the introduction of mental health services specific to the Asian American community.
The AAI was established last fall in response to the doxxing of two Davidson students over alleged neo-Nazi Tweets, which revealed the necessity to create more educational opportunities on and for minority groups on campus. While last year the organization focused on generating student interest and awareness through lectures and discussions resembling what an Asian American Studies class would be like, this semester AAI is focusing on engagement with the academic administration. The AAI will be meeting with President Quillen and Dean Jefferson on Wednesday to discuss their demands.
Co-founder of the AAI Cathy Xu ’21 explained the significance of posting physical copies of their demands around campus as a way to reclaim the space for minority students after white supremacist messages were found around campus in previous years.
“Asian Americans are constantly seen as the model minority, quiet, subservient, and apolitical,” she said. In occupying physical spaces on campus, Xu argued that Asian Americans “want to be able to start taking up space and take charge of [themselves] politically.”
Thus far, the AAI has encountered hindrances with the opportunity hire of Dr. Yurika Tamura and the Asian American Studies flash Creative Writing position in the English department both being declined.
Xu emphasised that had both of these positions been approved, AAI would have been one position away from creating an Asian American Studies minor. Currently, Dr. Tamura, a visiting professor for the Humanities program and Gender & Sexuality Studies department, is the only Asian American specialist on campus.
However, Dr. Tamura is set to depart after spring 2020, leaving Davidson susceptible to having no specialists in the field. With the proposal of an opportunity hire rejected, AAI is rethinking its tactics with the hope of extending Dr. Tamura’s contract to another year.
According to Raven Hudson ’21, another co-founder of the initiative, the problem is that the administration reverts to the argument that students interested in pursuing Asian American studies should do so through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. Hudson emphasised that this is not sustainable as Davidson does not offer enough courses in the field, making it challenging to meet the requirements. Moreover, Xu argued that this is problematic as “the labor continuously falls on marginalized students to create what they want to study.”
Co-founder Ashley Ip ’22 maintained that, given the breadth of student interest in the field, it is unwarranted that Davidson has yet to expand its academic opportunities pertaining to Asian-American studies.
According to the AAI’s website, the discussions offered last semester were well-received with fifty-six students attending their interest meeting and over thirty people attending the various dialogue series events, exceeding the standard class sizes at Davidson College. “People are definitely interested,” Ip said, “it’s just up to Davidson to somehow meet those demands.”
In addition to greater engagement with administration, this semester the AAI is working to create a network amongst Asian American students by reaching out to Asian American alumni, notably Lillian “Beadsie” Woo ’86, the only Asian American on the Board of Trustees, to strengthen the intergenerational Asian American community at Davidson.
Advocacy for Asian American Studies at Davidson, however, is not entirely new to the Davidson campus. AAI’s website mentions that in 2016 a group of students began designing a prototype for Asian American Studies at Davidson College and worked with Associate Dean of Faculty Fuji Lozada and other faculty of color to propose new hires as part of a new Asian American Studies program at Davidson College, following a process similar to the one used to build the Africana Studies department. However, owing to a lack of sufficient student support, their demands were impeded and eventually ceased.
Members of the AAI emphasized that they do not seek to diminish the significance of other academic departments and programs, but rather create a coalition and work together to achieve the well-rounded education that Davidson, as a liberal arts college, strives to provide.
“The creation of Jewish Studies and the continued building of Africana Studies are important because through teaching these histories and cultures, we ensure the violence of the past isn’t repeated,” Hudson said. “Asian American history just isn’t talked about.”