Spurred by the efforts of student activists, the University of Pennsylvania’s Asian American Studies Program was formed in the 1996-97 academic year.
Students rallied in 1990 calling for Penn to create a program to teach about diverse Asian American histories and cultures. At the time, Penn didn’t offer courses on the Asian American experience. Students distributed flyers on Locust Walk and met with the University administration, which led to the creation of a faculty committee to create a framework for the program.
The Asian American Studies Program now offers seven courses each semester, including “Asian Americans in Contemporary Society,” “Introduction to Asian American Literature” and Introduction to Asian American History.”
The program offers two annual campus events, a multi-disciplinary speaker series, “Asian America Across the Disciplines,” and a national undergraduate research conference.
“In the past five years our courses have really blossomed. All of our courses are nearly filled to capacity or completely full with a waiting list,” says Fariha Khan, program associate director.
Students can now choose Asian American studies as a minor, but, with the growing interest in diversity issues in academia, program leaders hope the program will become a department in the near future.
“We are poised for growth,” Khan says. “Asian Americans are the fastest growing American population. Students benefit because they’re able to see themselves outside of the box they live in and they can see themselves as a part of the fabric of the American landscape.”
“I see our program not just servicing Asian American students but leading other groups to understand how important race and immigration is to not just the U.S. but to the world,” says Grace Kao, professor of sociology and program director in 2003-09.
At a March 30 celebration of the program’s 15th anniversary, students, faculty and alums gathered to reminisce about the program’s history and hope for the future of Asian American studies at Penn.