AAPI Studies program in the works

A new Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Studies program is set to begin at Brandeis in the 2019-2020 school year, according to Max Tang ’19, president of the Brandeis Asian American Task Force (BAATF). The program came together as a result of a petition sent to Brandeis administration in 2015.

Members of BAATF gathered outside of the Bernstein-Marcus administration building in December 2015 to advocate for the formation of the program, along with a host of other demands. Following their “Day of Action,” members of BAATF entered Bernstein-Marcus to give their letter to Lisa Lynch, then interim president, and other members of the administration.

According to the letter, BAATF is “a grassroots, Brandeis University based and focused, student organization created to advocate for the needs and betterment of the Asian American community here at Brandeis University. The purpose of BAATF is to gather and mobilize students around finding solutions to issues specific to the Asian American community here at Brandeis.”

In the demands, BAATF asked for the formation of an Asian American Studies Department that includes both a major and a minor, an introductory course on Asian American Studies taught in fall 2016 to continue each year and a hire of three tenure-track Asian American Studies professors, which included a Florence Levy Kay fellow of Asian American studies. Following the “Day of Action,” a student and faculty committee was formed to help create the program, said Tang in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

In fall 2017, Dr. Leanne Day (WGS/GRALL) was hired as a Florence Levy Kay fellow in Asian American Pacific Islander Studies and has been at Brandeis since. She currently teaches Introduction to Asian American Studies (AAPI 140b) and Asian American Pacific Islander Literature and Popular Culture (AAPI 150b) and has taught The Asian American Pacific Islander Experience: Race, U.S. Empire, and Migration (AAPI 140b) in past semesters.

In March 2019 at an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) celebration held by the Brandeis Asian American Student Association (BAASA), Tang announced Dr. Yuri Doolan, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, had been hired as the first tenure-track assistant professor in AAPI Studies. According to an email sent to The Hoot by Dean of Arts and Sciences Dorothy Hodgson, the search committee for the School of Arts and Sciences unanimously selected Doolan for the position and were able to successfully recruit him.

“One of his key responsibilities will be to develop and implement a new minor in Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies and support broader AAPI programming (lectures, events, etc),” said Hodgson in the email. “The School of Arts and Sciences is deeply committed to building AAPI Studies at Brandeis. We are excited that Mr. Doolan’s hire will be an important building block in that process.” She also noted that the committee is in the process of agreeing on a budget to support this programming.  

Doolan did not reply to requests for comment from The Hoot.

Additionally, Hodgson said in the email that she approved a “one year full-time teaching position next year in the School of Arts and Sciences for a candidate to teach two to three AAPI courses, in addition to other courses relevant to their expertise.”

This was partially in response to the March 4 petition submitted to Hodgson and various other administrators, which garnered over 425 signatures, requesting that Dr. Leanne Day be retained as a faculty member for another year in order to support the formation of the AAPI Studies program. Although Hodgson cannot guarantee Day will be the faculty member to fill the one year full-time teaching position, “if she chooses to apply, Dr. Day will certainly be a candidate for that job,” she said.

The minor is still in the works and must be “designed and approved by the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and then at two votes at Faculty Meeting,” said Elaine Wong, senior associate dean for undergraduate education in the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences in an email to The Hoot. “Its creation would ensure that AAPI courses are offered regularly and that new courses will continue to be developed. The minor will also enable students and faculty to engage with one another in programming related to AAPI Studies,” she said.

“It’s good to know that the BAATF has been able to sustain its leadership, even as its founding members graduate, and that the university has been able to honor its commitments to the BAATF and other concerned Brandeis students,” Wong said.

Tang was a part of the founding group of BAATF at the “Day of Action” in 2015 and was inspired by founder, Jamie Wong ’17. Wong was inspired to start this campaign while attending an activism event. She left a quote on the walls of the Intercultural Center (ICC), which said, “If an opportunity does not exist, create it. If an idea does not exist, create it. Do not wait.”

Members of BAATF and the rest of the Brandeis community are continuing to fight for the AAPI Studies program and the rest of the demands from the letter to administration in 2015.

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