A Long Time Coming

Jacquelynn Nguyen

The new program is a milestone in the fight to give Asian American studies “a rightful presence on Princeton’s campus.” — Toni Xu ’20, Asian American Students Association co-president
Photo: Sharon Xiang ’20

Princeton Alumni Weekly
April 25, 2018
By W. Raymond Ollwerther

It’s official: Princeton has a Program in Asian American Studies, capping four decades of advocacy by students and alumni.

The faculty voted April 2 to create an Asian American studies certificate program and to change the certificate requirements for the 9-year-old Latino studies program. Latino and Asian American studies will be administered by the American studies program.

Nancy Lin ’77, co-chair of the Asian American Alumni Association (A4P), said the faculty action followed “herculean efforts by students and alumni, involving petitions, sit-ins, proposals, fundraising, and more. We can finally breathe, ‘At last!’

“Thanks to farsighted faculty and this administration’s support, Princeton can now catch up to other major universities,” she said. “At the same time, we note that this is but one stake in the first railroad tie to build a program worthy of our alma mater.”

History professor Hendrik Hartog, former director of the American studies program, said that while the faculty vote was important, it was a small step. The programs in Latino and Asian American studies have “a very thin set” of course offerings, he said, and more faculty are needed to add classes.

Many of Princeton’s peers have a curriculum in Asian American studies — an interdisciplinary field that explores the history, culture, and experiences of people of Asian ancestry in the United States. While some schools have created “silos for identity studies,” Hartog said American studies at Princeton is “an integrated program with several strands,” perhaps in the future including areas such as Native American studies and disability studies. American studies has been attracting 25 to 40 certificate students a year, he said, and Latino studies five or six students per year.

The Asian American studies certificate program is expected to attract about 15 students per year, according to faculty members who worked on the proposal. As Asian American topics have been added to the curriculum, enrollment has been strong: Almost 100 students took a course on Asian American history in the fall.

Toni Xu ’20, co-president of the 500-member Asian American Students Association, said the new program is a milestone in the fight to give Asian American studies “a rightful presence on Princeton’s campus.” The program’s creation “helps acknowledge the value of Asian American heritage, not only to our AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] students and the larger Princeton community, but also as an important field in the greater U.S.,” she said.

Students in American studies, Latino studies, and Asian American studies will take a common gateway course, “America Then and Now,” three courses in their field of study, and a capstone seminar in American studies. A senior thesis on a topic related to the certificate program can be substituted for the seminar. Hartog and Professor Anne Cheng ’85, director of the American studies program, will jointly teach a capstone seminar in the fall on property and culture.

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