ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE. 
MAKING SPACE FOR STUDENTS.

 

Between 2000 and 2010, North Carolina’s Asian American population increased by 85% and rose beyond the nation’s 46% growth; in fact, North Carolina was the state with the third largest percentage growth. This trend continues as the population grew almost 30% between 2010 and 2015. As of 2017, Mecklenburg County had North Carolina’s second largest Asian American population, at 61,859. This rapid population growth in North Carolina, and even Mecklenburg County, only heightens the relevance, importance, and need for Asian American representation and studies within the state and at Davidson College.

The history of Asian American student consciousness, community, and activism at Davidson College is fairly recent. The earliest Asian or Asian American student activists were in 2002 and advocated for the creation of an Asian student organization. This was a starting point for creating a space for Asian students at Davidson College––work that we are still building on today. These students, such as Sean Chan, Ying Zhang, Joey Chow, Min Nguyen, Nafisa Isa, were the pioneers of the Asian Cultural Awareness Association, which is still the largest Asian student organization we have on campus. Since 2002, the Asian population at Davidson College has grown exponentially, yet cultural consciousness around Asian history and discourse remains small.

Starting in 2016, a new group of students, including Tian Yi, Helen Mun, and Tabassum began designing a prototype for Asian American Studies at Davidson College while working with Dean Tae-Sun Kim, the then-director of the Multicultural Affairs Department, and Dean Lozada to create an independent study for spring 2016. This student working group developed an Introduction to Asian American Studies course that was taught by Dean Lozada and assisted by Dean Kim. Course syllabi and assignments can still be found on their website, ExpectAsian

 

This student group worked with Dean Lozada and other faculty of color to propose new hires and a new Asian American Studies program at Davidson College, following a process similar to the one that was used to build the Africana Studies department. They focused on working with faculty and administration, but were unable to build popular support among the student body. This lack of widespread student support meant that when the administration disapproved of their proposals, organization around their demands were hindered and ultimately ceased. We, the Asian American Initiative (AAI), are building off of past student activists’ work to intentionally build an interdisciplinary and coalitional Asian American Studies program and campaign.

The Asian American Initiative was formed in the aftermath of the neo-Nazi doxxing event on Davidson College’s campus in fall 2018. The need for a space to build community, as well as visibility, for Asian American students became apparent; greater social consciousness of America’s cultural histories and their progression into contemporary contexts is necessary if we, the Davidson College community, are to avoid another such event. Thus, AAI formed a dialogue series for Spring 2019 in order to demonstrate student interest in Asian American Studies, as well as to spread awareness about Asian American Studies and what it would look like at Davidson College. Our dialogue series modelled a class structure at Davidson College, complete with academic reading and discussions––focusing on topics like Asian American queerness and the hypersexualization of Asian women and the emasculation of Asian men. It was met with strong student support: we had fifty-six students attend our interest meeting and over thirty people who attended the different dialogue series events, reaching and exceeding actual class sizes at Davidson College.

 

We invited Dr. Khyati Joshi, an Asian American specialist from Fairleigh Dickinson University to conduct a workshop on building Asian American Studies at Davidson College and give a lecture on “Why Asian American Studies.” We also organized and facilitated lectures by Davidson College professors: Dr. Yurika Tamura gave a lecture on “East of California” theory and her experience teaching Asian American Studies in the South, while Dr. Gary Bertholf lectured on Afro-Asian relations. 


Core members of our working group were also able to attend the Triangle Area Asian American Conference at North Carolina State in Raleigh, where we attended lectures, workshops, and established connections with students in triangle-area colleges who are also working to build Asian American Studies. Additionally, AAI has garnered publicity at Davidson and beyond. The Davidsonian published a news article about AAI, as well as a perspectives piece by Cathy Xu ‘21 about our work. NBC Asian America then featured Xu in an article on nation-wide efforts to build Asian American Studies departments in institutions of higher education.

Consequently, we are demanding that Davidson College establish Asian American Studies as a distinct program from those already offered, because being Asian American is a specific experience that cannot be merged into simply East Asian, South Asian, or American Studies. Restricted to the Asian continent, the former two departments do not fully account for the realities of immigration, diaspora, and transnationalism that are specific to the Asian American identity. In contrast, Asian American history and cultural production occurs on American soil.

 

As evident by the doxxing of neo-Nazi students at Davidson College in the fall of 2018, there is a distinct lack of social consciousness about the history of America that is not white. Davidson College has made significant progress in addressing the history of other American ethnic groups with the establishment of Latin American Studies, Africana Studies, and now the addition of Jewish Studies courses, much of which has resulted from the activism of students and professors of color––but the history of Asian America remains ignored.

 

Especially in our current political moment––where I.C.E. is putting immigrants into detainment facilities using former Japanese internment camps––we can no longer overlook the importance of teaching the history of Asian America. These biographies are crucial to understanding the complex history of America, for it is a history of all its inhabitants.

 

Furthermore, Asian Americanness is not only our past, but also our present. Asian Americans are writing, composing, analyzing, creating, and researching, and yet we are not studying them. As an interdisciplinary subject, Asian American Studies would have courses in common with Africana, Sociology, English, Gender & Sexuality Studies, History, East & South Asian Studies, and beyond.

Davidson College’s only Asian American course taught by its single visiting specialist lacks in comparison to the offerings of other higher institutions, including its peer institutions. In fact, two of Davidson College’s peer institutions––Claremont McKenna and Pomona––have established Asian American departments, and since fall 2018, Duke University has launched an Asian American Studies program. Of our other peer institutions, seven offer three or more Asian American Studies courses, and two offer minors or concentrations.

We, the Asian American Initiative, make the following demands of Davidson College:

1. We demand the hiring of Asian American specialists to start building out an Asian American Studies program, especially considering the denial of two positions within the last six months: the extraordinary opportunity hire of Dr. Yurika Tamura through the Gender & Sexuality Studies department and a Creative Writing and Asian American Studies position through the English department.​

  • If we lose Dr. Yurika Tamura after Spring 2020, we will not have any professors who are specialists in this field. Thus, by the end of the next academic year (2020-2021), Davidson College should open a national search for a Transnational Asian/American Studies tenure-track specialist. 

  • Have two tenure-track faculty positions as of the 2020-2021 academic year. While these positions would not yet constitute a department, they are necessary for its eventual creation in later semesters.

  • We also want an additional senior hire by the 2021-2022 academic year. For the creation of the Africana Studies department, Davidson College hired Dr. Tracey Hucks to build out the department in her vision. Hucks, as an established figure in the field, brought on several other pivotal hires for the department, which spurred student interest—particularly from the classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021. The Asian American Studies department should start with a senior hire of a similar caliber to that of Dr. Hucks.

2. We demand the establishment of an Asian American Studies major and minor first through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, to be  ultimately housed in an independent department. 

  • We demand that Davidson College establish the minor by spring 2021 and the major by fall 2023, at the latest. Past student activists have already modeled an “Intro to Asian American Studies” course through their independent study and fought to create a department. We are continuing their efforts and have drafted a framework for the major, including sample course credits from Davidson College’s pre-existing courses and other campus’ Asian American Studies departments. 

  • We call for Asian American departmental public programming-- similar to those held by the Asian American Initiative’s Dialogue Series during spring 2019––to educate and raise awareness about Asian Americanness and to demonstrate the relevance and interdisciplinary nature of Asian American Studies. 

  • Moreover, the general lack of knowledge about Asian Americanness results in avoidance or neglect of the topic in courses, deepening its erasure. We insist upon the integration of Asian American topics and perspectives into relevant course syllabi, across disciplines. 

4. We demand an increase in Asian representation among deans and other senior administrative faculty. Hiring Asian American representatives in different administrative and staff positions including the Dean’s Office, Residence Life Office, Academic Affairs, and Admissions Office. 

  • Specifically including Asian American representation on the Applications Review Committee

  • More transparent statistics on the diversity of the student population, including making a clear distinction between international Asian students versus Asian American students. 

  • Pushing for greater Asian American representation on the Board of Trustees. As of right now, the Board is regularly governed by thirty to forty-five members but includes only one Asian American member.

5. We demand that Davidson strengthen the network of mental health services that are available to students of color, specifically Asian and Asian American students. 

  • The Center for Student Health and Well-Being is in the process of hiring a female counselor of color. This is an important step, but fundamentally, it is not enough. We need more counselors of color on campus, and especially more than one woman of color counselor. In addition, we need programs like an Asian American-specific mental health group to target mental health issues unique to this community. 

3. We demand that Davidson increase efforts to build community within Asian American students. Overall, Asian Americans on campus lack a support system, whether this be in the form of mentorship, counseling, or student community. Without this safety net, Asian American students are likely to feel unsupported and may even choose to transfer. Davidson College should devote energy to the retention of students of color.

  • The hiring of more Asian/American professors would also provide much-needed support for students, in the form of academic mentorship. In addition, these formal and informal professor-student relationships would allow students to engage meaningfully and to build a community beyond simply their peers. 

  • Second, improve the STRIDE program for Asian Americans. Currently, the demographics of STRIDE are not representative of the broader population of students of color, and Asian American participation in the program has dropped exponentially in recent years. If Asian American students do not feel supported within the STRIDE program, they will not come back to the program as mentors. There needs to be an intervention so that this cycle does not continue, and this intervention needs to come in the form of more active support of Asian American students and discussion from administrators within the STRIDE program. 

  • Third, strengthen the Asian American Alumni Network and increase its accessibility.

    • Publicize the network as a resource for Asian American students and alumni. As of now, most Asian American students, faculty, and alumni are either unaware of or have only heard rumors about its existence; its status as a chartered organization remains unclear.

  • Establish an affinity-group reunion for alumni in order to strengthen intergenerational Asian American community at Davidson College.

  • Create events that strengthen connections between current Asian American students and Asian American alumni, e.g. networking and meet-and-greet events.

In 

 

Signed in solidarity and support,

  • Alpha Gamma Chapter of Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc. 

  • Asian Culture Awareness Association 

  • Asian American Initiative 

  • Black Student Coalition 

  • Chinese Culture Club 

  • Davidson African Students’ Association 

  • Davidson Young Democratic Socialists of America 

  • Delta Kappa Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta 

  • Jewish Student Union 

  • Muslim Student Association 

  • Organization of Latin American Students

  • Phi Delta Theta NC Gamma

  • Planned Parenthood Generation Action 

  • Queers and Allies

  • Rape Awareness Committee 

  • Sigma Alpha Epsilon 

  • Sigma Phi Epsilon

  • South Asian Student Association 

  • Tau Omicron Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. 

  • The Brothers of the Davidson College Associate Chapter of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. 

  • Turner House 

  • You Are Not a Stranger Here

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