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Josephine Park was named the Asian American Studies program director after the program operated without an official director for two years.  

Credit: Emily Xu

After two years without an official director, the Asian American Studies program now has a formal leader in Josephine Park, who assumes this role in addition to being undergraduate chair of the English Department and teaching ASAM courses.

ASAM has struggled with maintaining leadership since the founding director of the program left Penn in 2017. Park was named the ASAM program's interim director in 2018, and was set to serve for a year. She officially started as formal director this academic year, and will continue to serve in the role next year as well.

Now, Park said she hopes to bring in more undergraduates to the ASAM minor, expand the program’s breadth of course offerings, and recruit faculty members from other Penn departments to ASAM.

"We need to be more innovative and work with the deans to find ways of bringing in faculty, and this is a key reason for my interest in postdoctoral fellows and senior visiting faculty," Park wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

In June 2017, former director Grace Kao left her position to teach at Yale University. Following Kao's departure, ASAM steering committee member and History professor Eiichiro Azuma said the ASAM faculty steering committee looked to other departments to hire someone with expertise relevant to lead Asian American studies, but could not find a replacement, leading faculty members to take on interim positions, including Park. Since 2018, ASAM has only been able to hire one full-time senior lecturer. 

"We are pleased that Professor Park is serving Asian American Studies so well and hope that other Penn faculty continue to engage with this important program," School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty wrote in an email to the DP. 

Fluharty said requests for new faculty searches originate from the faculty of an individual department rather than the dean's office, but the office continues to encourage requests for faculty members suited to teach in ASAM.

Azuma called Park's decision to fulfill this second administrative role on top of her leadership in the English Department "an enormous sacrifice on her part," which he said should not have had to be made by individual faculty members.

Park was one of two candidates for the position, both of whom had leadership experience in the English Department. She said it is not uncommon for faculty who work on programs to also have a full load of responsibilities within their own department.

“We really do it out of our passionate commitment to the program," Park said, calling ASAM the "real work" she does at Penn. "It’s not something that we line our pockets with. It’s a service that we actively want to do.”

Azuma said the limited number of candidates for program director mirrors a "fundamental institutional problem" at Penn, stemming from the dearth of committed tenure-track or tenured faculty members that the program can depend on for leadership. 

Credit: Maria Murad

The Asian American Studies program is housed in the McNeil Building.

Park explained that new faculty hires at Penn are reserved for departments, and since ASAM is classified as a program, they are forced to depend on relevant hires from other departments. Because of this, Park said she aims to draw faculty members in other departments to ASAM in order to expand on their existing course offerings.

Another one of Park's main motivations is to continue supporting ASAM's Undergraduate Advisory Board, which engages students in the program and fosters conversations on Asian American issues through events and conferences. 

UAB member and College senior Hannah Singer, who minors in ASAM, said Park is one of the most thoughtful professors she’s had at Penn.

"She’s very caring about her students beyond the course material,” Singer said. “She’s been so supportive of the UAB in helping us materialize our ideas to engage undergraduates.” 

ASAM UAB member and College senior Jessica Li described Park as a "really respected professor among students.” Li said UAB members were not involved in or aware of the process of electing a director, but were delighted at Park’s appointment.

“She’s been teaching for so long, and her Asian American literature class in particular is a really highly sought after course,” Li said. “A lot of people love her.”