Just over 20 years after 17 Northwestern students started a hunger strike to demand the University implement an Asian-American Studies major, the Weinberg Curricular Policies Committee formally submitted a proposal for the major program to a Weinberg faculty meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Mary Finn presented the plan on behalf of the committee in a closed meeting. In an interview, she said it includes basic course requirements across Asian-American Studies, as well as what she called an “innovative” immersion component, such as study abroad or Chicago Field Studies and a requirement that students take courses in another ethnic discipline.
“There was a lot of support, some good questions,” Finn said. “There were no objections.”
As Weinberg faculty prepared the proposal, students started a petition in November calling for Northwestern to implement an Asian-American Studies major. The push for a major goes back to 1995, when the Asian American Advisory Board, a student organization, demanded the University implement the program.
The University started an Asian-American Studies program in 1999 that offered a minor, but students had to design their own curriculum if they wanted to major. Weinberg senior Kevin Luong, who started the petition, said this lengthy process discouraged him and others from pursuing it as their primary course of study.
“It’s quite a significant difference in work ethic required, especially if you compare it to the normal process for a Weinberg major,” Luong said.
Although there’s no senior who will receive an Asian-American Studies degree this year, Luong said, there’s been a handful over the last few years. Finn said there is a demand for the major.
According to Finn, it’s taken 16 years to establish the major because the school needed to establish the faculty to support the program. There are now three core faculty in the Asian-American Studies program, as well as a visiting professor and two lecturers.
Luong said that 20 years of work from faculty and students have helped create program, but he sees the recent push as part broader rise in campus activism.
On Nov. 13, hundreds of students gathered at the Black House to protest institutional racism on campus. They then marched to Henry Crown Sports Pavilion, where they broke up a groundbreaking ceremony with President Morton Schapiro and issued a set of demands to expand inclusion on campus. Among them were the creation of an Asian American Studies and the Native Indigenous Studies Department.
“There's a very clear momentum on campus, both for Asian American and other ethnic studies, as well as for other communities of color that we’re starting to see," Luong said.
Additionally, Luong said there’s such an emphasis on ethnic Studies because many students find a home there that provides an alternative lens to engage with traditional courses like history and political science.
“I found a home in Asian-American Studies that is more difficult to find in other parts of Northwestern,” Luong said. “And more importantly Asian-American Studies and other ethnic Studies creates research on the unheard and erased histories, particularly for a lot of communities both here and outside of Northwestern.”