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‘Asian American Experience’ course takes root at Brandeis

By Abigail Gardener

Section: News

September 9, 2016

Twenty students are enrolled in “The Asian-American Experience” this semester, an American Studies course that brings to light the role of Asian-Americans in this country’s history. The course is taught by adjunct lecturer Patrick Chung, a Ph.D. from Brown University.

The course, which is the first Asian-American Studies course to be offered at Brandeis in five years, comes as a result of many efforts put forth last year by the Brandeis Asian-American Task Force (BAATF). After a “Day of Action Rally” in December and negotiations with administrators, the school formed a committee to pursue the establishment of an Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Studies program at Brandeis. Brandeis announced the creation of the course in March.

“We imagined an introductory course being offered this semester and it became concrete reality through student activism and all who’ve supported this movement for Asian-American studies,” BAATF posted in a Facebook statement on March 23.

Chung was impressed with the manner in which this course was brought to Brandeis. “One of the things that really attracted me to this was the activism students had in something that I wasn’t very active with when I was an undergrad,” Chung said. “It’s something that I wish I had done more of, and I think it’s really impressive that we’re able to accomplish so much.”

The hope of the class is to examine “the political, economic, social and contemporary issues related to Asians in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the present,” according to the course description on the University Registrar.

The syllabus for the course emphasizes class participation and discussion. Assignments include two response papers in which students are expected to analyze a primary source or film and discuss how that source relates to larger themes discussed in class. The course will culminate in final group presentations, the objective of which is to “uncover a ‘hidden history’ of Asian America,” according to the syllabus.

“Either present an ‘Asian-American’ narrative of a widely known historical event … or a little known event involving Asian-Americans that you believe needs to be told.”

Chung, who is finishing his Ph.D. in History at Brown University, wants to emphasize the “hidden history” of Asian-Americans in this course to “contest the commonly held assumption that Asian-American history is at the ‘margins’ of American history,” the syllabus states. For example, most people might not think that Asian-Americans played a role in the Boston Tea Party.

“Most people don’t think about the tea and where did the tea come from generally—Asia,” Chung said. “The Boston Tea Party is a really good way to get into the large role that Asia and the China trade played in the American Revolution and early colonial America, so that’d be one of the examples that Asia and trade with Asia played a role in history that’s been underappreciated.”

Students enrolled in the course are also enthusiastic about how it has started off. The class has only met four times since classes began, but Chung mused, “I’ve been really impressed by the engagement of the students. A large number of students have been active in the move for expanding Asian-American studies here … I’ve been trying to devote a lot of time to getting their perspectives.”

There is much excitement surrounding the course, considering the substantial efforts made to make the course available to students and the hope that it will lead to more Asian-American Studies courses and an AAPI minor. “If this class does well, hopefully more courses will come about and grow into a minor,” suggested Danni Tang ’19, a member of BAATF and the Committee to Establish AAPI Studies at Brandeis.

“I hoped that this class would be a place where students (Asian-American students especially) can have a space to come learn about our histories, bounce ideas off each other, share our experiences,” said Tang. “The end goal, for me, is to have the knowledge and conversations we need to form our own opinions about who we are and what we want as AAPIs and to share that with non-AAPI students.”

The class will satisfy both Oral Communication and Social Science requirements. It meets twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11-12:20 p.m.

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