HomeCampusCal State Fullerton Establishes Asian American Studies Department

Cal State Fullerton Establishes Asian American Studies Department

Asian American Studies at Cal State Fullerton
Photo: Asian American Studies at Cal State Fullerton

By Khalid Mohammed
AsAmNews Intern

Cal State Fullerton President Fram Virjee has signed a proposal passed by the Academic Senate to make the University’s Asian American Studies program into a full fledged department.


The  program this month joined the ranks of the departments of Chicana and Chicano Studies, American Indian Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies.

It has been a long road. But the journey has been impressive.

Asian American Studies Coordinator, Eliza Noh, Ph.D., told AsAmNews that the Program has always practically functioned as a department. Focusing on issues of social justice for all, the Asian American Studies Department at CSUF aimed to foster knowledge and teaching while serving the Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.

In the mid-1990s, “Ellen Junn (currently serving as President of CSU Stanislaus) wrote an initial proposal for a minor in Asian American Studies in collaboration with Dean Don Castro,” said retired Professor Emeritus Craig Ihara in an interview with AsAmNews.

“Having a full-fledged department is something like becoming a first-class citizen,” he jokes.

Ihara was one of the first faculty to support the program — along with Professor Emeritus of History and Asian American Studies, Art Hansen, and Professor of Communications, Jeffrey Brody, among others — and served as the program’s coordinator for ten years. Thomas Fujita-Rony, Ph.D. was hired as the Program’s first full-time faculty member.

“I was eager to help establish such a program because of my own Japanese American heritage,” said Ihara. “I was sure that preserving the history of Asians in American would be something my mother and grandmother would approve of.

“Attaining departmental status was always our goal.”

Asian American students at CSUF were right behind that objective. A group of students shared their passions and gathered in the Student Academic Services to study the history of Asian American Studies in 1994-95. Student-activist Traci Kiriyama led the students in advocating for an Asian American Studies program and became the burgeoning program’s first graduate, receiving a minor in ASAM in 1996.

 Asian American Studies at Cal State Fullerton
Photo: Asian American Studies at Cal State Fullerton

Noh notes that all of the Asian American Studies Department faculty are now tenured. After the university provided a clearer policy statement on steps to establish a department, Gender and Women’s Studies became the latest program to become a department last year. This put into gear the collaborative decision-making coordination that the Asian American Studies faculty practice, says Noh.

“I feel like there is a big symbolic meaning in changing our status to a department,” Noh told AsAmNews. “It shows that the university is committed to Asian American Studies as more than just a program and demonstrates a far greater commitment to diversity.”

But Asians at CSUF, like at other campuses around the United States, also face challenges. Sometimes, Asian Americans are confronted with classic stereotypes and overt prejudice.

“There are continuing stereotypes of Asians being the so-called ‘model minority’ not in need of any educational need,” said Noh. “But that’s the reason why we exist: to create a more accurate picture of our diversity.”

There is much to look forward to. The new department says more challenges remain.

At the time of this writing, over 5,000 CSUF students and faculty have signed onto a Change.org petition asking CSU Chancellor to rescind the revised Executive Order 1100 which was signed in August 2017. This Executive Order took out the requisite world civilization and cultures course and eliminated many general education requirements, sparking an outcry among university’s faculty for denying CSUF students an opportunity for “education based on cultural competency and respect for diversity.” The California State University, Northridge Faculty Senate even voted not to comply with the order.

The Daily Titan, CSUF’s student newspaper, on the other hand, has praised the changes as beneficial for students wishing to graduate quicker.

Requests for comment from CSUF President Fram Virjee on the Executive Order went unanswered.

Noh is unfazed and more determined. Part of it stems from the overwhelming support the Asian American Studies program has received both from the university body and community partners in its transition from a program to a department.

“Having departmental status is not the end goal,” she says. “We are always in the process of making Asian American Studies a more integrated liberal studies discipline. So even though we are a department now just as a few CSU executive orders are paring down general education requirements and making it even more difficult, there is a continuing effort to expand Asian American Studies.

California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) is a public research university home to about 40,000 students. The university’s Institutional Research and Analytical Studies department notes that for the fall 2017 semester, about 20.5% of the student body, or 8,291 students, was Asian. In fact, Asian students were statistically tied with the school’s White population and second only to Hispanics.

Interest in the school’s 22-year-old Asian American Studies Program within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences has been steadily rising within and beyond the school’s Asian American community. The program has gradually evolved as well.

If the program’s long history has taught one lesson, it is that both Asian American Studies faculty and students will be up for the challenges.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart.  We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns.  Check out our Facebook page  and our Twitter feed,  Please consider interning, joining our staff or submitting a story for consideration.



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