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Students and faculty gathered on College Green to demand support and recognition for the Asian American Studies program. 

Credit: Haley Suh

Students in the Asian-American Studies Department held an open forum Tuesday to discuss the future of the program, which has been threatened by one professor's recent departure. 

ASAM's Undergraduate Advisory Board held the event at Civic House to discuss the history and purpose of ethnic studies programs at Penn and formulate strategies for their preservation and improvement. This forum comes in the midst of Sociology professor Grace Kao's move from Penn to Yale University on the program's 20th anniversary in January. 

Her departure prompted protests by Asian-American students and faculty members on College Green last Monday — their demands included increased legitimacy and funding for ASAM. The Department's UAB also created a petition that received 1,196 signatures. Through their efforts, ASAM obtained meetings with three of Penn’s deans and with the library system.

Christian Perucho, Nursing senior and ASAM UAB Chair, said that in scheduling these hour-long meetings, the group has completed the first stage in attracting more administration support for ethnic studies programs.

“Now that we have this opportunity we need to be smart about what we talk about,” Perucho said.

But students at the forum emphasized that there is still a long way to go with ethnic studies programs at Penn.

Some students spoke about the need to act as a unified front with related programs. They cited the merging of the Africana Studies and African Studies departments and closure of the Africa Center as evidence that Penn has historically undervalued these programs.

Engineering senior Lilach Brownstein spoke about how the merging of the two department shows that a confusion exists in differentiating between their curriculum. While African studies focuses only on the study of the African continent, Africana studies focuses on African diasporas across the world.

“The ethnic studies [Africana Studies and Asian-American Studies] are much more rooted in the recent history of what it is to be like in America as a minority, which is much more prevalent to most of the people at Penn,” Brownstein said. 

Students at the forum also stressed that ASAM's UAB needs to push for interracial and interdisciplinary collaborations.

Perucho stated that these collaborations are necessary in order to combat the model minority myth surrounding Asian Americans, which he said is “used as a tool to pit us against the black and latinx communities … with the whole goal of keeping us as people of color oppressed to the white majority.” 

Some students also called for others to think of ways to financially incentivize the University to continue to fund these types of programs. 

“As a large, old institution they care about their alumni, and as a private institution they care about their image,” Perucho said. 

College sophomore and ASAM UAB member Luke Kertcher added that “keeping people’s histories of resistance from them is an act of violence." 

"Repressing someone’s history, heritage and culture coincides with the repression of ethnic studies programs,” he said.