Spurred by the efforts of student activists, the University of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Asian American Studies Program was formed in the 1996-97 academic year.
Students rallied in 1990 calling for Penn to create a program to teach about diverse Asian American histories and cultures. At the time, Penn didnâ€™t offer courses on the Asian American experience. Students distributed flyers on Locust Walk and met with the University administration, which led to the creation of a faculty committee to create a framework for the program.
The Asian American Studies Program now offers seven courses each semester, including â€śAsian Americans in Contemporary Society,â€ť â€śIntroduction to Asian American Literatureâ€ť and Introduction to Asian American History.â€ť
The program offers two annual campus events, a multi-disciplinary speaker series, â€śAsian America Across the Disciplines,â€ť and a national undergraduate research conference.
â€śIn the past five years our courses have really blossomed. All of our courses are nearly filled to capacity or completely full with a waiting list,â€ť says Fariha Khan, program associate director.
Students can now choose Asian American studies as a minor, but, with the growing interest in diversity issues in academia, program leaders hope the program will become a department in the near future.
â€śWe are poised for growth,â€ť Khan says. â€śAsian Americans are the fastest growing American population. Students benefit because theyâ€™re able to see themselves outside of the box they live in and they can see themselves as a part of the fabric of the American landscape.â€ť
â€śI see our program not just servicing Asian American students but leading other groups to understand how important race and immigration is to not just the U.S. but to the world,â€ť says Grace Kao, professor of sociology and program director in 2003-09.
At a March 30 celebration of the programâ€™s 15th anniversary, students, faculty and alums gathered to reminisce about the programâ€™s history and hope for the future of Asian American studies at Penn.