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Natasha Menon (Photo from Luke Kertcher)

To promote the importance of Asian American studies and to clear misconceptions surrounding the program on campus, students in the Asian American Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania launched “#ASiAM."

Spearheaded by ASAM Undergraduate Advisory Board Co-Chairs and College seniors Trinh Nguyen and Luke Kertcher, the campaign started last April when the ASAM UAB released an online video, which features several Penn students discussing what they have gained from their ASAM courses. 

Recently, the ASAM UAB launched a photo campaign in which they set up a table along Locust Walk and encouraged people to make posters responding to two prompts — what they wish Penn has taught them or what they have learned from ASAM courses — and take pictures with their posters.

“We were able to illustrate through the first [prompt] gaps in the program or things people would like to see at Penn that we don’t currently have,” Kertcher said. "Through the second one, [we saw] the value of the academic program and what people have been able to learn.”

Kertcher added that the photo campaign was based on student movements at other universities, including Yale, which does not have a formal Asian American studies program. He said the UAB wanted to show solidarity with students at other universities.

Martina Liu (Photo from Luke Kertcher)

ASAM has been mired in controversy since longstanding ASAM faculty member Grace Kao left Penn for Yale University in January 2017. 

Kao's departure sparked protests across campus with faculty and students calling on administrators to increase funding and support for the program. The program recently hired full-time lecturer Rupa Pillai, a scholar of anthropology and Asian American studies, who started teaching this fall. 

Nguyen said they aim to clear common misconceptions surrounding the ASAM program through the #ASiAM campaign.

“I think people sometimes forget that ethnic studies is a part of American studies,” Nguyen said. She added the UAB aims to emphasize that Asian American studies is different from other Asian area studies, such as East Asian Languages and Civilizations or South Asia Studies, which focus on countries and their histories rather than the experiences of Asian Americans living in the US.

“We are showing people that it is a very specific and unique program,” Kertcher added.

ASAM Associate Director and lecturer Fariha I. Khan said while she advises the UAB, the campaign was entirely the product of the students.

“This particular campaign really comes from the UAB themselves,” Khan said. “It’s been incredibly inspiring to see them come up with an idea and be really determined to make it happen.” 

Khan added that the #ASiAM campaign allows students to reflect on what it means to be Asian American, which she said is especially important given the nation’s current political atmosphere.

“Now it’s particularly relevant to think about what it means to come from a heritage that is racialized [and] what it means to have immigrant parents or to be an immigrant yourself, given the discourse in our nation about immigrants,” Khan added. 

Vedika Gopal (Photo from Luke Kertcher)