Kaizad Irani ‘22
Following the doxxing of two Davidson students over alleged neo-Nazi Tweets last fall, many students felt the need to create more educational opportunities on and for minority groups on campus. Along with the push for a Jewish Studies department, a new group of students are working on expanding Davidson’s curriculum to be more inclusive and diverse.
The Asian American Initiative (AAI) is a student-led group advocating for an Asian American Studies department and creating a space for Asian American students at Davidson. Founded by Cathy Xu ‘21 last semester, the organization consists of nine committees, ranging from a focus on discussion series to the logistical planning of creating the new department.
“After the events last semester, many Asian students felt impacted, but at the same time, found a lack of Asian student participation and representation at the following student rally. The absence of Asians caused confusion about the role we have in our community and our relationships with our peers,” said Xu. “I decided to hold a meeting for all Asian students interested, so that we could finally begin to get to know each other and discuss how the event impacted us. From it, the AAI formed and now consists of a core group of organizers who have become the Asian family I never had on campus.”
Currently, the group is focused on bringing in tenure track faculty to Davidson who are qualified in teaching Asian American studies. As of now, the college only has one Asian American specialist, Dr. Yurika Tamura, a visiting professor for the Humanities and Gender & Sexuality Studies departments.
“We want to build an interdisciplinary department, similar to ones like Africana Studies, and are currently focused on bringing a critical mass of professors from a multitude of disciplines whose work centers on Asian Americans,” shared co-organizer Sanzari Aranyak ‘22. “We hope that through bringing professors to campus and working to get them hired as tenure-track faculty, we will be able to build the department.”
Additionally, the AAI has been working on bringing more lectures to campus that can talk about some of the values that the club has. On March 26th, they hosted their first spring lecture titled, “Why Asian American Studies?” The talk was given by Dr. Khyati Y. Joshi, a Professor of Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Dr. Joshi’s talk focused on the importance and practicality of an Asian American curriculum at the college level. According to Dr. Joshi, despite the Asian population being the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, less than 10% of American colleges and universities offer a stand alone Asian American Studies program.
“We are not asking for Asian American related courses because we already know all of the information and want to educate others. We do not know these histories, and we believe that this is a significant gap that exists across all demographics of students who have gone through the American education system,” expressed Raven Hudson ‘21, another co-organizer of the initiative.
Furthermore, at her lecture, Dr. Joshi covered the importance of creating a student life that includes Asian Americans — a sentiment also felt by members of the AAI.
“The Asian American population on this campus has little community support. As someone who falls into intersections of multiple identity groups, I have had a hard time finding my people and space on campus,” said Aranyak. “We need a space for Asian American students that caters to our scholarship and community.”
The AAI plans on having three more lectures and a group discussion before the semester ends. Some of the topics they plan to discuss are the Asian population in Australia, queerness in Asian American communities, and Afro-Asian relations.
Additionally, the AAI does not want to compete or dismiss any of the existing departments on campus that deal with minority groups and subjects. Rather, they hope to work together to expand and modernize Davidson academics.
“We are not blaming Africana or Latin American Studies for being established already. We are not saying that it should be Asian American Studies instead of Jewish Studies that get the next hire. We are not saying that East Asian and South Asian Studies are not doing important work as well,” said Hudson. “By all of us making demands, we are telling Davidson that we want a curriculum that is more diverse, well-rounded, and representative of everyone at the college. Our voices are stronger together when we amplify each other.”
The AAI meets weekly and will continue to host open events throughout the rest of the semester. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Instagram or Twitter @DavidsonAAI.