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A Penn alumna, who played an integral role in the founding of Penn's Asian American Studies program, died on Jan. 19. Yoonmee Chang received her Ph.D. in English from the University in 2003.

The ASAM program announced her passing on its website.  

"We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our colleague, Yoonmee Chang," it read. 

It described Chang as "an instrumental leader in the founding of the Asian American Studies Program at Penn," which was established in the fall of 1996. 

Yoonmee Chang

"In lieu of flowers, contributions in Yoonmee Chang’s memory may be made to the Asian American Studies Program of the University of Pennsylvania," ASAM posted.

The ASAM program has fought for its preservation since it was founded in 1996. In the year since former ASAM Director Grace Kao left Penn for Yale University, students and faculty have rallied and petitioned for a replacement director, more administrative support, and more funding.

At the time of her death, Chang was an English professor at George Mason University and also taught literature at the university.

"She also wrote a powerful scholarly book that is highly regarded in the field of Asian American literary study."

Throughout her academic and professional career, Chang focused on Asian diasporic literature. She was a published poet and the author of the critically acclaimed book "Writing the Ghetto: Class, Authorship, and the Asian American Ethnic Enclave." 

According to the online literary journal Beltway Poet Quarterly, Chang was working on a book on the "zainichi," or the "Koreans in Japan from the colonial period and their descendants."

Fellow novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen commemorated Chang in a tweet. 


ASAM's website states that Chang's memorial service will take place Saturday, Jan. 27 in Fairfax, Va. 

"Yoonmee had finished her degree here by the time I started," Penn English professor and former ASAM Director Josephine Park said in an email, "but I had the pleasure of meeting her when she visited campus as well as at the Association for Asian American Studies annual conference — she was brilliant and hilarious all at once. She also wrote a powerful scholarly book that is highly regarded in the field of Asian American literary study."

Staff reporter Madeleine Ngo contributed reporting.

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