Last semester, I took the only Asian American Studies class offered at Yale in the 2014-2015 academic year, and it was the most gratifying intellectual experience I have ever had. To see myself in my curriculum was an incredible and affirming experience. Beyond validating my personal experiences as a first-generation Chinese American, I gained so much perspective on the untold history of AAPIs and so much perspective on America as a whole.
But this was an experience I almost missed out on. It has been forty-five years since Yale offered its first Asian American Studies class and twenty-eight years since it promised to devote just two courses a year to Asian American Studies. Yet last year, only one such course was offered among Yale’s over 2000 lectures and seminars. This class, while excellently received, was the product of a last minute, ad hoc effort to ensure that at least one Asian American Studies course would be offered. Since Yale’s only full-time Asian American Studies professor was on sabbatical, a graduate student taught and wrote the syllabus for the class.
During the Fall 2014 semester, a group of students revived the Yale Asian American Studies Task Force in order to rekindle a dialogue calling for the Yale administration to recognize this lack of classes. On February 27th and 28th, 2015, the Task Force and the Yale Asian American Cultural Center (AACC) successfully planned Yale’s first Asian American Studies Conference in years, which was attended by over 100 people and some of the most prominent scholars in the field. Additionally, the Task Force partnered with the Yale Asian American Students Alliance (AASA) to create a post-it note display of over 750 names, each representing a person who supports the Task Force’s mission.
In our most recent project, the members and supporters of the Yale Asian American Studies Task Force used whiteboards to write the names of Asian American Studies classes taught at peer institutions that are not offered at Yale, or to write specific topics within this field that are not covered by Yale’s curriculum. Each of these messages was coupled with the phrase “Yale Will Not Teach Me.” Students selected classes such as “Asian-Black Historical Solidarities” and “Asian American Personality and Mental Health”, which are taught at Northwestern University and UCLA respectively.
Through these projects, we hold Yale accountable to its mission of educating and nurturing its students by asking it to make Asian American Studies and other Ethnic Studies a priority. We will be vigilant in these demands until the administration makes a sustained commitment to dedicate resources to foster students’ interests in Asian American Studies. Just my brief exposure to the subject has massively diversified my perspective on the world, and I ask that Yale recognize how valuable classes in this subject can be for all its students.
I’m grateful for what Yale has already offered me the life-altering class that I have already taken, but I have the right to demand better for myself, my classmates, and future Yalies. I still really believe that Yale is a place where knowledge and intellectual growth is valued above all else, and my peers and I are asking that our academic interests in Asian American Studies be taken seriously. Most importantly, however, I hope that by calling attention to the importance of Asian American Studies, Yale will stop being complicit with the national invisibility of Asian Americans and the deceptiveness of the “model minority” myth. Rather, Yale should consider ensuring the availability of Asian American Studies classes to be integral to its goal of providing a comprehensive liberal arts education to its students. The marginalization of Asian American Studies by a university is the marginalization of a legitimate academic field, and Yale is obligated to right this injustice if we bring it to light.