Penn’s Asian American Studies program, which has long advocated for additional funding and faculty members, is offering two new courses next semester.
Overall, the ASAM program is offering eight courses this upcoming semester, which is consistent with the number of courses that have been offered in recent years. Nine courses were offered this fall, ten in spring 2019, and eight in fall 2018.
“The program is not expanding, just stable right now," ASAM Associate Director Fariha Khan said.
English professor Chi-ming Yang and Fine Arts Chair Ken Lum will co-teach “The Chinese Body,” a new seminar on how Asian bodies have been represented in city planning, literature, and film from the middle of the 19th century onwards. The second new course, "Asian American Women: Nation, Self, Identity,” will be taught by South Asia Studies lecturer Raili Roy and will examine Asian American women's identities with a focus on racial and gender stereotypes.
In previous years, Penn's ASAM program consistently faced difficulties such as lack of a permanent director and physical space, leading students and faculty to call for increased support from the University.
In 2018, Penn hired Rupa Pillai as the first full-time lecturer in Asian American Studies. ASAM Director and Undergraduate Chair of English Josephine Park said Pillai teaches two courses a semester, which has let other professors develop new courses and allowed ASAM to double the program's lineup since she arrived. This spring, Park added, Pillai will teach "Asian American Gender and Sexuality" and "The Asian Caribbean."
Students who have taken ASAM classes said many courses ended up being deeply personal and relevant to them and their sense of identity.
College junior Erin O’Malley, who is the events co-chair for ASAM’s Undergraduate Advisory Board, transferred to Penn as a sophomore specifically to study Asian American studies.
“I was never able to consider myself a writer until college, where I saw writers like me at an institutional level," O'Malley said. "This was super validating.”
College sophomore Claire Nguyen also emphasized how validating ASAM courses have been for her.
“Asian American studies feels so real. It is empowering and really just affirms my experience as an Asian American woman and gives me insight into [mine] and others’ experiences,” she said. “It has changed my worldview, making me see how race operates in the world and helped me recognize that my body is a politicized and racialized one and how I live daily is an extension of this.”
ASAM UAB Co-Chair and College senior Louis Lin said the courses have also given a valuable academic perspective.
"ASAM has helped me better understand the greater narrative of how Asian Americans fit into the culture-history lexicon of America and shaped how I apply my knowledge in other classes,” Lin said.
Beyond courses, Khan said ASAM has several new programs planned for the spring, including the Yoonmee Chang Memorial Lecture and a book talk from English professor David Eng on Asian American students’ mental health. Khan said the program is looking to provide more opportunities for students, such as creating an ASAM undergraduate fellow.
“At the end of the day, we are really fortunate to have ASAM and want students at Penn to know that," Khan said. "We are one of the only Ivies that has it, and students should not take it for granted. We’ve fought hard to be here and want our place to be sustained.”