Lilliana Greene ’21
Last Thursday, January 30th, professorial candidate Heidi Hong began her lecture entitled “Imagining Place and Belonging: Eco-Speculative Approaches to Asian American Literature” by reminding her audience of this critical fact — Davidson was built upon stolen land, and the campus we move through every day was built by slaves. This practice has been increasingly common and exemplifies Hong’s emphasis on using decolonization rhetoric. She then went on to explain the importance of Asian American literature and the necessity of using an interdisciplinary approach to counteract the dangers of a single story.
Hong focuses on ecological and speculative approaches to literature. To her, this entails an exploration of what it means to be a minority that accepts the United States as a home while knowing and acknowledging the history of slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. She calls for a movement beyond a rhetoric of representation and diversity toward a rhetoric of decolonization.
Hong is a PhD candidate in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She visited Davidson as a potential Consortium for Faculty Diversity (CFD) postdoc teaching fellow. The CFD is a group of about 70 liberal arts colleges committed to bringing underrepresented minority faculty members to their campuses. Every couple of years, when Davidson is able to accomodate a new fellow, interested departments have the opportunity to submit a brief description of their needs and what they are looking for in a candidate. This year the English department was selected.
Several years ago, at a faculty retreat, the English department recognized a need to diversify the curriculum and especially to address a lack of multiethnic literatures of the United States. Dr. Shireen Campbell, the Chair of the English Department, explained that “our sense of who should be studied or who is worthy of study has become wonderfully complicated in multiple dimensions.” They initially submitted an unsuccessful proposal for a tenure-track position in creative writing and Asian American Literature. While the Asian American component was found to be compelling, it was felt that there was not sufficient documentation of a need for creative writing.
Having Hong as a CFD fellow does not completely fulfill the department’s ultimate goal of a full-time hire, but it is a significant step. Dr. Campbell explained, “the benefit of starting this way is that we’ve got two years and four courses in which to measure the depth and extent of student interest and also allow her to expand her teaching repertoire.” The hope is that this will lead to a tenure-track position in Asian American literature.
Raven Hudson ‘21, a core organizer for the Asian American Initiative (AAI), also expressed hopefulness at the prospect of Hong coming to Davidson. “I think this is an important step in bringing someone to campus, raising awareness, having people in those classes, having people learn about the field, and being aware that it is a field that exists.” Hong’s hire does not, however, satisfy the ultimate goals of the Initiative. Hudson said that AAI will keep pushing for a more permanent position to satisfy the documented demand and interest.
Though Hong’s position will only be for two years, Hudson remains excited. “I think I was just really struck by how well rounded she was in terms of the subjects that she touched on […] I think her work just really highlights the way that everything can be and should be interdisciplinary.” Olivia Ng ‘21 similarly expressed her enthusiasm: “As an Asian American student and environmental studies major, it was really cool to see people talking about literature. It crosses so many fields, and for me, that’s really important and really [inspires] me to take her class if she comes to Davidson.”
“Many students have, throughout the years, been interested in Asian American Studies,” explained Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Fuji Lozada, “especially when Africana Studies was established, and they saw what was possible.” Hong represents a start in the fulfillment of this demand. English major Margaret Parker ‘21 summarized what Hong would mean for the English department and the college as a whole: “I think that her approach to literary studies would be incredibly valuable at Davidson, and she would be a wonderful addition to the department.”
Hong mentioned four sample courses that she would possibly teach at Davidson: a survey of Asian American Literature and Film, Asian American Speculative Fiction, Gender and Sexuality in Asian American Literature, and Transpacific Ecologies: Migrant Literature and Climate Change. Some themes she would explore include techno-orientalism, Asian American feminism, decolonial approaches to science and technological studies, and imaging the consequences of and alternative solutions to global ecological predicaments. Nina Yao ‘21 is especially excited by the intersection of environmental studies and Asian American literature. She said, “I think it was really interesting to get the eco perspective on Asian American studies because that’s something I’ve never thought about before.”