On March 30, the College announced that there will be a cluster hire of faculty to teach in Penn’s Asian American Studies Program. While the Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board is grateful for this news, we are disappointed that our labor and the labor of our UAB alumni, who assembled to draft a petition to demand Penn retain Dr. David Eng and support ASAM, have been left out of this news. Though we should be excited about this cluster hire as current co-chairs of the UAB, we still remain wary of this ostensible victory and Penn’s responses to anti-Asian violence.
Penn refuses to acknowledge that ASAM is more than an academic program; it is a beautiful community that is one of the only spaces on campus dedicated to Asian American students.
The survival of ASAM is crucial to the experiences of Asian students who, through ASAM, can not only critically learn about their histories in classes but are also able to laugh during our joyful lunchtime gatherings alongside our faculty and staff. For us, ASAM professors, particularly Dr. Fariha Khan, the associate director of the ASAM Program, have become parent-like figures who have continuously supported us as we’ve navigated Penn’s challenging terrain. After reading the 800 signatures on the UAB alumni petition — many of which include personal testimonials, we know that students and alumni resonate with our sentiments toward ASAM.
It is imperative to recognize that it is Penn’s institutional disregard that forces ASAM to be resilient. Throughout its 25 years of existence, ASAM has continued to struggle from a lack of University support, including the absence of necessary administrative staff, faculty, space, and resources. As members of the UAB since our first years at Penn, we have attended several meetings with University administrators, such as School of Arts & Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty and Provost Wendell Pritchett, who have previously shrugged off our concerns time and time again. This cluster hire is one of the largest efforts made by Penn to support the ASAM Program, but why is Penn choosing to support its Asian American Studies Program now?
It is not lost on us that the University decided to implement this cluster hire exactly two weeks after Asian women were massacred in Atlanta. It is not lost on us that the College announced its Inclusion and Anti-Racism Initiatives after a summer Black Lives Matter protests due to the police murder of George Floyd. It is not lost on us that it takes violence against Black, Indigenous, and non-Black communities of color in order for Penn to offer us the essential resources we have always lacked.
The struggle for ASAM is symptomatic of the University’s indifference toward the communities Penn claims to uplift, particularly those of students of color. On behalf of campus student organizers — namely our Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, queer, FGLI, and non-citizen peers — we are tired of the urgent necessity of our labor that so often amounts to the hours of a part-time job from which no sincere, meaningful change is enacted. We as students should not have to fight to have our own personhood recognized by the university, and we are tired of our labor remaining invisible while the University continues to tout our work as their own virtuous charity. We are tired of Penn’s disregard of the needs of students of color, and we are tired of only being visible to the University when our feelings of sadness and rage in response to devastating violence become an opportunity for Penn to advertise its “commitment” to diversity and inclusion.
Penn cannot continue to be reactive to high-profile instances of oppression and prejudice. Penn must be proactive in ensuring its community members are supported before such actions occur. Most importantly, Penn must be proactive in ending the violence it continues to inflict in Philadelphia every single day. In addition to the forthcoming cluster hire, we need Penn to meet our longstanding demands:
- That Penn make its strongest efforts to retain Dr. David Eng, whose retention is supported by 800+ alumni and current students who signed the petition, as well as the 58 faculty members who are supporting Dr. Eng’s retention through this open letter.
- That Penn allocate funds to stabilize ASAM’s infrastructure, including the hire of a full-time administrative staff person, and funds to continue the ASAM Fellowship, which was started through a generous donation to ASAM but needs financial support in order to continue to allow Penn undergraduates to pursue robust, original research projects to contribute to the field of Asian American Studies.
- That Penn provide more monetary and institutional support for not only the ASAM Program but also for all ethnic and minority studies programs on campus
When Penn finally enacts the changes that we, the co-chairs of the ASAM UAB, have demanded time and time again, as well as those of past and present student organizers — including abolishing the Penn Police Department and paying PILOTs — we may finally believe that the University is truly committed to supporting its diverse communities.