Earlier this month, a student at UCSB created a petition on Change.org demanding an increase in the availability of Asian American ethnic courses, specifically upper-division courses.
In the petition, titled “Increase Availability of Asian Ethnic Courses at UC Santa Barbara,” the petition’s organizer Betty Hang mentions how the 100xx-series of Asian American studies courses are only offered every other year, and also have a tendency of being cancelled, which is what happened with AS AM 100 EE: Vietnamese Americans this fall quarter. The petition is directed at the administration of UCSB to recognize the demand for these courses and offer them more regularly. The Bottom Line reached out to Hang but was not able to get a comment from her.
The 100xx-series of courses focus on the history of specific Asian American cultures, which include Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans, Korean Americans, Vietnamese Americans, South Asian Americans and Southeast Asian Americans.
“The professor for [the Vietnamese Americans] class got a one-year research leave at UCLA and that’s why that class had to be cancelled. Professor erin Khuê Ninh will be teaching it in the fall, as soon as she comes back,” said Diane Fujino in an interview with The Bottom Line. Fujino is a professor of Asian American Studies at UCSB.
“People are often either on research leaves, or they teach more classes than they can teach in a year, so some of the upper-division courses are offered every year or every other year,” Fujino said. “Because we’re a small department and with very few faculty, we usually don’t offer our upper divisions more than once a year. We wish we could do more, but we need more faculty.”
Asian American studies students such as Rose Hoang, a third-year student at UCSB double-majoring in global studies and Asian American studies, agree with the student-made petition.
“I’m really bummed out about [the Vietnamese Americans course], because it would have been really exciting to learn about myself and my family,” Hoang said. “I identify as Vietnamese American, but it wasn’t until college that I learned more about another side of the Vietnam War and … American imperialism. I think [the Asian American Studies department] need[s] more funding, and clearly we’re under-resourced for stuff like this: if there’s one teacher who’s gone, the whole class [gets] canceled.”
As for why the Asian American studies department is small, Fujino points to the difficulty of finding qualified scholars in Santa Barbara.
“There aren’t a ton of what we call Asian Americanists, who are people who specialize in Asian American studies here,” Fujino said. “It’s difficult for us as a department to find Asian Americanists in the area. Santa Barbara is a small place, so they would have to commute from elsewhere. That’s what makes it more difficult than say, a place like the Bay Area, or LA. So it’s particular to this geography.”
Another reason that Asian American studies courses are offered less frequently is due to the variety of topics the studies cover.
“Asian American studies is so heterogeneous. We’re really committed to teaching ethnic-specific courses; that’s one of the things that is important to us. But it’s not the only thing. We want someone who does environmental justice, someone who does migration studies, someone who does literature, someone who does history.“ Fujino continued.
Hoang remarked that the field of Asian American studies holds a special meaning to herself and many others.
“There’s a quote that I live off which goes, ‘No history, no self. Know history, know self,’” Hoang said. “It’s so important, especially as Asian Americans, when we’re the minority in a white-dominant school, to acknowledge the history and know how it affects people in different groups. But even if you’re not Vietnamese, I would still think having this [Vietnamese Americans] class and letting other people learn about our history is also really important.”
Despite their limitations, however, Fujino noted that the outlook for the department’s future is positive.
“We’re hoping for growth and expansion. It’s looking like there’s going to be growth, not just in staff serving Asian American student needs and the development of the Pan Asian Center, but also in the hiring of some Asian American studies scholars in our department and outside. Nothing is set in stone yet, but it’s looking hopeful.”