In a rare move, a City of Philadelphia panel has declared that the University's use of the word "Oriental" in the Oriental Studies Department is "offensive" and "reflects imperialist attitudes toward Asians." Tsiwen Law, chairman of the Mayor's Commission on Asian-American Affairs, wrote to the department last semester saying the commission supports students who want to change the name. "Oriental . . . can only further fuel racial hatred in this country," Law's letter to Oriental Studies Department Chairperson Ludo Rocher said. Rocher could not be reached for comment on the letter yesterday. The letter, also sent to President Sheldon Hackney and the Asian-American Student Alliance, states that "the commission has considered your department's continued use of the term Oriental and has decided to inform you of the Commission's view that the term is offensive to the Asian American communities of Philadelphia and to the Commission in particular." University students working for a name change said the letter seems to have had no effect on the department, saying Oriental Studies officials have made no significant move towards a change. After months of controversy and confusion, the Oriental Studies department is expected to announce this month the members of a committee to study the name-change. But Darryl Tom, a member of the Asian American Student Alliance, said yesterday he is not satisfied with the department's efforts. "They're stonewalling us," Tom said yesterday. "They're not communicating with us. We should be having direct contact, but we're not. We were suggesting that they at least renounce the name. We want them to make a commitment first." But Rocher said Tuesday he recognized "there are different opinions in the department" and said he plans to pass out a questionaire about the issue. Rocher conceded that "the time may have come to change," but "it takes time to move a department of this size towards a common purpose." "I am a little dissatisfied with the progress of the committee," Rocher said. The committee includes Oriental Studies Professors David Silverman, William Hanaway, Wilhelm Halbfass and Jerome Packard, to which the department will add several student representatives. Rocher explained that because classes about Jewish, Arabic and Asian issues are taught by the department, it is difficult to find an all-encompassing moniker. "It's very hard to come up with an alternative name," he said. "We are known throughout the country as the 'Oriental Studies Department' " Committee Chairman Hanaway would not comment on any aspect of the issue two weeks ago and Tom said that "Oriental Studies professors have been told not to speak to the public." United Minorities Council Vice-Chairperson John Shu said last week that "a department is not based on its name, it's based on its work, faculty, and students." Comparing "Oriental" to the outdated term "negro", Shu noted that universities have long since replaced "negro" in the names of their black-issue departments. Shu said last month that "students have been asking for change from the department for years." "The department has been playing hide and seek," the College junior said last month. "This year will be different." "They're an odd lot, but I hope the department will cooperate," Shu added. But he said that the name change is merely a superfluous issue, and that he would like to see a move to bring Asian professors to the department and an improvement in the quality of the classes. The College junior concluded that it is "bloody nonsense" that the department has no Asian standing faculty.Comments powered by Disqus
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