Op-Ed: A/PIA Studies crucial to diversity, equity and inclusion

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - 4:47pm

As Asian/Pacific Islander American students and alumni of the University of Michigan, we are called to action as we witness everything we love about our campus and nation coming under assault. We are moved to join with and help lead the majority of Wolverines and Americans who say “no” to racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, religious intolerance, ableism and bigotry of all kinds. “Go Blue” must be a rallying cry for democracy, for social justice and for science and education in the public interest.

We have seen a presidential campaign motivated by scapegoating, hatred and revenge manifest on our campus, as well as a campaign of domestic terrorism through white supremacist posters in our communities. While there are new threats we must name and confront, we must not forget that our fight against racist ignorance and attacks on campus, in Ann Arbor and in the United States goes back decades. Those in power have never guaranteed safe spaces for our communities. We are the ones who have fought and organized to create our own spaces of consciousness, liberation and solidarity.

That is why we need Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies now more than ever. A/PIA Studies and Ethnic Studies were born out of the struggle against global and domestic warfare and oppression, when student activists demanded a relevant education that overturned Eurocentric biases and reflected the diverse perspectives and concerns of our communities. We are a product of that struggle, and no analysis of racism, intersectionality or social justice would be possible today without it.

When full-time faculty and employment and student involvement peaked in A/PIA Studies at the University, we were part of a nationally renowned program offering a wide range of courses addressing race and justice. We had engaged faculty whose activities extended far beyond the classroom and whose mentoring served our organizations and programs on nights and weekends. Though A/PIA Studies had limited resources, no office space and no staff, we worked with these faculty to build cultural and educational programs, including large-scale events such as the Out of the Margins activism conference, which drew hundreds of attendees from diverse backgrounds to address the social issues that impact us and the entire nation.

We had the incredible honor to learn from and work with community leaders, including legendary scholar-activist, Grace Lee Boggs. Boggs taught us, “You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it, and responsible for changing it.” Education has been our foundation, as we have become socially conscious alumni, community organizers, educators, policy-makers, professionals, attorneys, health care providers, parents and much more.

We want and need for today’s students to benefit from A/PIA Studies in the ways that we were able to when we were in school. Since 2013, A/PIA Studies has been reduced to a shadow of its former self because of top-down decisions by administrators lacking proper knowledge and expertise to appreciate the program’s value and potential. The most dedicated faculty have been fired or pushed away. The classes and programs we built up have disappeared. Because of this, the climate for A/PIA students and many students at the University has become less inclusive and more hostile. Our efforts to get answers and provide support for rebuilding the program have been tokenized and ignored.

The A/PIA Studies program was once a social justice leader on campus. Its professors were always at the forefront of organizing teach-ins in response to national crises, supporting student organizations, advocating for students of color, defending survivors of hate crimes and sexual assault and holding the administration accountable to its diversity promises. Our campus and our nation need a renewal of that vital presence.

We are encouraged to see the LSA's October 2016 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic Plan finally recognize that past leadership failures have made students, staff and faculty feel “isolated and disrespected based on their social identities” and suffer “depression and stigmatization resulting from a lack of understanding and compassion.” LSA has specifically acknowledged that “Asian and Asian-American faculty, students, and staff have felt left out of the conversation altogether.”

But we’ve already heard countless promises about diversity, equity and inclusion from leadership. This time must be different. LSA’s Strategic Plan does not in any way name how its prior missteps undermined A/PIA Studies, and its “36 Strategic Goals” do not commit to any positive steps to rebuild and promote the program. Three years of slow progress, inadequate measures and a lack of transparency are too much.

LSA and the University must recognize the incredible past accomplishments of A/PIA Studies and make it a cornerstone of the campaign for diversity, equity and inclusion. The University has the power within its grasp to restore national leadership in the field of A/PIA Studies. We call on students, alumni, faculty, staff and off-campus supporters from all backgrounds to embrace the following proposals. We commit ourselves not only to implementing these steps, but also to working with everyone struggling to move diversity, equity and inclusion from the realm of rhetoric to reality.

We call for the full restoration of the eight full-time faculty in A/PIA Studies who have been lost since 2008, including the restoration of the courses, scholarly expertise and student mentoring that has been lost. We call for the University to meet the demand for staff, funding and physical space that students, faculty and staff deem necessary to fulfill the curricular and co-curricular needs of A/PIA Studies and related A/PIA cultural programming and activities. We call for a restoration of direct involvement by students, alumni, staff and community allies in setting priorities, decision making and governance of the A/PIA Studies program. We call for institutional structures that ensure the A/PIA Studies program has the autonomy to be led by its own stakeholders who are central to the work of the program and possess the expertise needed to promote its success.

We can never again allow A/PIA Studies to be undermined by short-sighted administrators or department chairs who lack the best interests of the program. We call for the formation of a commission of external Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies experts to identify additional steps the University must take to become “the Leaders and the Best” in Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies. This commission must outline a pathway for A/PIA Studies to achieve departmental status.

Undersigned,

Michelle Lin-Luse, class of 2003

United Asian American Organizations, Co-chair

New York, N.Y.

 

Cesar Herrera, class of 2003

United Asian American Organizations, Finance Chair

YK Leadership Program

New York, N.Y.

 

Aisa M. Villarosa, class of 2008

A/PIA Studies Minor

Filipino American Student Association, Vice President

Oakland, Calif.

 

George Dong, class of 2009

United Asian American Organizations, Historian

Mountain View, Calif.

 

Anisha Mangalick, class of 2008

United Asian American Organizations, Board Member

San Francisco, Calif.

 

Theresa Tran Kouo, class of 2006/MSW 2010

United Asian American Organizations Co-chair

St. Louis, Mo.

 

Christian M. Evangelista, class of 2007

 

Nikki Guglielmo, class of 2009/MBA 2015

Filipino American Student Association, Treasurer

2008 Generation APA Cultural Show Co‐chair

Mich.

 

Nafisah Ula, class of 2008

United Asian American Organizations, Co-chair

Portland, Ore.

 

Andrew M. Guzman, MD, class of 2007

Filipino American Student Association, President

Minority Peer Advisor 2006-2007

Chicago, Ill.

 

Trisha Barua, class of 2008

South Asian Awareness Network

United Asian American Organizations

Oakland, Calif.

 

Stephanie Gray Chang, class of 2005

A/PIA Studies Minor

United Asian American Organizations, Co-chair

Detroit, Mich.

 

Stephanie Kao, class of 2006

United Asian American Organizations, Co-chair

Boston, Mass.

 

Leena Soman, class of 2002

Minority Peer Advisor

Minority Affairs Commission Co-chair

New York, N.Y.

 

Diana Yuen, class of 2003

Asian American Association, President

New York, N.Y.

 

Juhi Aggarwal, class of 2008

Yoni Ki Baat, Co-founder and Co-chair

Indian American Student Association, Vice President

Portland, Ore.

 

Kan Yang, class of 2008

Filipino American Student Association

Michigan Independent, Editor

Washington, D.C.

 

Marcia Lee, class of 2005

United Asian American Organizations, Co-chair

Detroit, Mich.

 

Veronica Garcia, class of 2010

A/PIA Studies Minor

United Asian American Organizations, Internal Relations Chair

A/PIA High School Conference, Co-chair

Oakland, Calif.

 

Greg Monroe, class of 2014

Ann Arbor, Mich.

 

Ijun Lai, class of 2003

A/PIA Studies Minor

United Asian American Organizations, Co-chair

Evanston, Ill.

 

Jee Chang, class of 2003

Shei Magazine, Founder

Midwest Asian American Student Union

 

Stefanie Dioso, class of 2004

Asian American Association

Plymouth, Mich.

 

Eeshin Chang, class of 2015

A/PIA Studies Minor

United Asian American Organizations, Co-chair

New York, N.Y.

 

Elaine Liu, class of 2003

APA101 Mentorship Program

Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, Inc.

New York, N.Y.

 

Denny Chan, class of 2008

United Asian American Organizations

Minority Peer Advisor

Los Angeles, Calif.

 

Erica Gehringer, class of 2014

A/PIA Studies Minor

Ypsilanti, Mich.

 

Jessica Tang, class of 2004

United Asian American Organizations

Taiwanese American Students Association

 

Kaylee Schonsheck, class of 2016

A/PIA Studies Minor

A/PIA Mentorship Program, Co-coordinator

St. Louis, Mo.

 

Sean Liu, class of 2015

United Asian American Organizations, Co-chair

Project Elephant, Co-founder

Branchburg, N.J.

 

Jennifer Liu, class 2016

San Francisco, Calif.