Tufts this fall launched a minor in Asian American studies, the result of a decades-long discussion between campus activists and administrators about how to create a more inclusive academic curriculum.
Housed under the American Studies Program, the six-credit interdisciplinary minor involves departments across the School of Arts and Sciences, including psychology, sociology, history, English, education and anthropology.
“Fifteen percent of the student body is Asian American,” Alex Chan, a senior, said. “The fact that there was no curriculum to reflect that is unfair. People of Asian American descent didn’t have the ability to learn about it.”
The minor requires students to take three courses that focus on Asian American experiences and history, as well as classes that address topics directly relevant to Asian American culture. Students must also complete a capstone course or project with a focus on the Asian American community.
Students have protested the absence of an Asian American studies program for years, even staging demonstrations to voice their grievances to the administration in 2005.
The new minor is a welcome addition to the American Studies curriculum, according to Jean Wu, senior lecturer of American Studies and faculty coordinator of Asian American Studies.
“This is one of the most cutting-edge fields of scholarship, asking lots of questions that Tufts says it’s about,” Wu said.
The Race and Ethnicity Working Group ? a committee of administrators, faculty and students ? last semester proposed the minor, as well as an Africana studies major, as part of an all-encompassing Critical Studies in Disparities and Diasporas program.
Courses that count for the new minor will discuss topics ranging from migration and citizenship to labor and gender issues.
Several departments will add new courses to expand the breadth of the minor to issues of both national and international importance, Wu said.
“When [Asian American] cultures are discussed on campus, people talk about the food and the music,” Marcy Regalado, a sophomore, said. “We want to educate students about these cultures in a more academic context.”
The lack of academic focus on Asian American history is a problem spanning across all levels of education, according to Chan, a member of the Tufts Asian American Alliance (AAA).
“In high school, middle school, even elementary school, we learn about slavery but not Japanese incarceration,” Chan said. “We learn about the Civil War, but not Chinese immigration.”
The AAA last year held teach-ins, organized open mic events and hosted guest speakers to bring attention to Asian American experiences across the student body.
Regalado and Chan said they see the minor as a first step towards curricular diversity.
However, Chan noted that AAA plans to stay active to continue increasing campus awareness about minorities that are underrepresented academically.
“I would be worried if there isn’t some sort of visible change on campus,” Chan said.
“My big concern is that we call it a day and go back to our regular thing. That’s not good enough.”
Despite faculty skepticism that delayed the minor’s approval last year, Wu said several students have expressed interest in declaring the new minor.
She credited AAA’s activity last year as bringing students’ interest in an Asian American studies program to the forefront.
“They didn’t create the interest, though,” Wu said. “The interest was probably already there.”
In addition to Africana and Asian American studies, Regalado said she hopes to see Tufts offer programs in Latino studies and queer studies in the future.