LSA Dean Promotes Ignorance of Asian/Pacific Islander Americans

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 4:33pm

If you are worried that the dissemination of “alternative facts” is undermining intelligent discourse and threatening our democracy, we advise you to pay closer to attention to LSA’s attempts to eliminate and distort the history of Asian/Pacific Islander Americans at the University of Michigan.

On March 10, LSA Dean Andrew Martin sent an email for mass distribution in which he announced “the first-ever campus-wide convening of students, faculty, and staff for an afternoon of informal meet-and-greet networking, information sharing, and structured conversations on issues of concern to Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander communities across campus.” 

Apparently, Dean Martin has just discovered the A/PIA community the same way Columbus “discovered” America. The flier Martin attached says the summit will discuss the “History of APIAs at U-M.” However, his misleading announcement suggests this will be a whitewashing of history.

As members of a network of A/PIA alumni and former student leaders, we are here to tell Martin that our community has convened dozens of campus-wide gatherings of student, staff and faculty for more than four decades. Not coincidentally, overcoming LSA’s lack of support for A/PIA Studies and lack of awareness of A / PIA concerns has been a central impetus for these regular convenings.

To erase the history of A/PIA organizing at the University is to ignore the collective struggles we have fought against Eurocentrism, hate crimes and institutional racism, while fighting for ethnic studies, affirmative action and social justice. This erasure reinforces the model minority stereotype of Asians as passive and conservative, thus fostering divisions between the A/PIA community and other communities of color.

In recent years, A/PIA students, faculty and staff organized a series of campus-wide summits, conferences and events in response to LSA’s failure to retain A/PIA Studies faculty, which reached a crisis point starting in 2011. Within an eight-month period, the United Asian American Organizations, the A/PIA Studies program and Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs convened two summits, one strategy session, one community conversation and an Asian-American activism conference, where more than 80 presenters addressed both campus and community issues.

Participants included prominent A/PIA scholars, artists, organizers and off-campus leaders, including a U.S. congressman and a state senator. Two presenters have since been elected to the Michigan House of Representatives and Philadelphia City Council, respectively. These gatherings also addressed the lack of space for A/PIA and student of color organizations on campus, as well as the problem of a hostile campus climate.

To pretend that events of this magnitude never happened demonstrates either profound audacity or a supreme level of ignorance that should disqualify oneself from leadership in education. But why is LSA trying so hard to erase this history? We have some ideas.

First, when students don’t know how vibrant A/PIA Studies used to be, it is easier for LSA to pretend as if its new diversity plan is breaking new ground rather than peddling old rhetoric. Prior to the demise of the program, A/PIA Studies curriculum and faculty had a strong presence among student organizations and campus life, and frequently collaborated to put on events several times a semester. One of the annual events that has since dropped off was “HolidAPA”, an event held at the end of the fall semester to showcase A/PIA Studies end-of-the-semester projects.

Second, setting low expectations makes it easier for LSA to defend its poor decision-making regarding leadership choices for the A/PIA Studies program and Department of American Culture, which lost 20 faculty of color from 1997 to 2016, including all four prior A/PIA Studies directors.

Third, Dean Martin and LSA are covering up their own roles in undermining faculty of color and ethnic studies. The University is currently the defendant in a landmark suit by two highly successful, award-winning faculty, who cite the University’s own documents to reveal how prior LSA deans and senior faculty opposed ethnic studies and favored white professors with thin resumes to lead American Culture.

If he wants to believe he is so committed to diversity and the A/PIA community, Dean Martin should retract these alternative facts and implement the five demands we presented in November 2016, and reinstate professors Kurashige and Lawsin immediately, giving them the resources needed to restore A/PIA Studies at the University. If he will not do this, we challenge Martin — a quantitative researcher — to show us the data that on A/PIA Studies activity (e.g., student enrollment and involvement, fundraising, public events, local/national awards, media coverage) before and after Prof. Kurashige’s termination and explain the discrepancy.