Protestors chanting “We are Asian-Americans, we will not stop the fight,” last week on the College Avenue campus were heard in School of Arts and Sciences Executive Dean Douglas Greenberg’s office, but were not greeted with a desirable response.
The march on December 7 to Greenberg’s office on 77 Hamilton St. was part of the Asian American Leadership Cabinet’s ongoing initiative for an Asian-American studies program at the University.
Greenberg said he recognizes the protestors’ concerns, but can only do so much under financial pressures.
“Do we do enough in Asian-American studies? Probably not. But I don’t think it’s a fair claim to say we’re unfair,” Greenberg said. “We’re doing the best we can with very limited resources. Students surely know what the situation with the Rutgers budget is.”
The 60 marchers wanted to express Asian-American studies’ importance on campus, said Long Pham, an AALC member.
“We have Asian Studies, but that relates to Asia. We want to know the Asian-American history, the way to analyze the things that have happened to us in the past and how they affect us politically, socially, culturally and economically,” said Pham, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
After failed attempts at quiet negotiation, students staged a loud protest to get attention, said Aamir Lalani, co-coordinator of the demonstration.
“We’re going against the prevailing notion that Asians are passive and not willing to take a stand,” said Lalani, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “That’s in part what I believe has the University resting and not fully supporting Asian-American studies.”
The University is ranked seventh in the percentage of degrees earned by Asians among public universities in the Association of American Universities, according to the University’s website.
School of Arts and Sciences junior Anna Phung, co-coordinator of the demonstration, said she believes Asian-American students should have the chance to learn about their history, as there are many students at the University who identify as Asian.
“Other universities that have Asian-American studies — their demographic is much smaller,” Pham said. “Rutgers has almost 25 percent of students that are Asian-identified, and that’s a gigantic group. But other universities that have maybe 12 percent have wonderful, integrated Asian studies.”
Donggu Yoon, a Rutgers United Students Coalition member, said Greenberg did not follow through with his promise to have a faculty this semester.
“It’s just not a priority in their minds. In their minds, it doesn’t concern them,” said Yoon, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “Obviously, the students disagree and say it’s a very important topic.”
But Greenberg said he has given in to certain demands in recent years and continues to negotiate with students.
“The presence of such courses in the curriculum is something that we’ve been trying to effect for a long time,” Greenberg said. “Students have been talking to me about this for at least a year, and we’ve added some courses since then.”
Ryan Ramones, an AALC organizer, said financial concerns might have caused the University to resist the organization’s demands for Asian-American studies.
“I believe one of the reasons Rutgers hasn’t implemented Asian-American studies is from a fear of another interdisciplinary subject taking a piece of the pie,” said Ramones, a School of Engineering junior. “I want to assure them that having Asian-American studies won’t steal money from other departments.”
Pham said an Asian-American studies program might help bring more money into the interdisciplinary department.
“Another program would actually help out the humanities department in general,” he said. “It would provide more opportunities and more potential for new projects that would accumulate more funding for the humanities.”
Greenberg said even if he had the means of establishing a concentration in Asian-American studies, the choice is not his.
“The decision about whether or not to offer a major or a minor is the decision that’s made by the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences,” he said. “The initiative to create such a minor field or major field will have to come from the faculty.”
Though Greenberg was not in his office during the rally on Wednesday, Ramones said he hopes it brought awareness to the campus community.
“I believe the rally will be successful and get people to notice Asian-American studies and have people to just listen and realize that this is something we don’t have at the University,” he said.
The organization plans for more protests toward equal academic opportunities, said Claire Chang, an AALC member.
“We believe, as a collective, that we can do things efficiently without leaving people out of the process,” she said. “We all have this collective effort to get things done.”
By Lisa Berkman for Rutgers