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(Clockwise from top left) Faculty members Hardeep Dhillon, Tahseen Shams and Bakirathi Mani and co-director David L. Eng will be joining the Asian American Studies program next year.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Three new faculty members are joining the Asian American Studies program next year, sparking new hope for the future of the program after a historical struggle for support between the University and faculty.

Hardeep Dhillon, Bakirathi Mani, and Tahseen Shams will join the University in 2023 as core faculty members of the ASAM program. Penn professor of English David Eng now serves as the program's faculty director alongside ASAM Co-Director and professor Fariha Khan this fall semester. The new hires and leadership spark hope for faculty after fears of the program's survival at Penn, faculty said.

"For 25 years, the ASAM program has confronted this intellectual starvation that our students have had of wanting to learn about this material, their histories, and to see professors that looked like them," Khan said. "It's very exciting that with the new colleagues, we'll be able to address some of these questions with more course offerings."

The new hires are a result of efforts announced by School of Arts & Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty in March 2021 to fill the program's standing faculty positions, Khan had announced in September 2021.

Tahseen Shams will join Penn as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and ASAM program in spring 2023. She is currently an assistant professor at the University of Toronto with academic interests in "international migration, race/ethnicity, and religion," according to her website.

Legal historian Hardeep Dhillon, who recently earned her Ph.D. in history from Harvard University, is set to join ASAM and the Department of History in fall 2023. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the American Bar Foundation researching law and inequality.

Bakirathi Mani will join the ASAM program and Department of English in the fall 2023 semester. Mani, who currently teaches at Swarthmore College, founded the Tri-College Asian American Studies Program, which developed the Asian American Studies curricula at Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford colleges.

Khan was appointed as co-director of the program amid a tumultuous period in the program's history. Eng — a Richard L. Fisher Professor of English — was slated to leave Penn in March 2021, citing a longstanding issue of declining support for the program.

"This is an incredible moment of growth and opportunity, but I would not want anyone at Penn to forget that it came at a time when the Atlanta shootings had happened, when anti-Asian violence was at its peak," Khan said.

In the end, Eng decided not to leave Penn and the ASAM program and now occupies the position of faculty director. He also teaches a course this semester called ASAM 0103: "Introduction to Asian American Literature and Culture."

"I'm really hoping that this moment is not the end of our growth, but only the beginning," Eng said.

Along with the new hires, the program has also received a grant to offer a new program called "The Third Space: Unfurling Diasporic Arts of South Asia." Aisha Khan, the founder and executive director of Twelve Gates Arts gallery in Philadelphia, will complete a curatorial residency in the ASAM program in spring 2023. The program seeks to highlight the South Asian diaspora within American contemporary art. 

Eng and Khan said they are enthusiastic for the future of ASAM at Penn, highlighting new developmental support for students and faculty in the program. However, faculty still forewarned the risk of complacency among students about the recent growth of the ASAM program.

"You deserve a program to understand the history that brought you here," Eng said.