Slow start for minor in As-Am program

Wailin Wong

In April 1995, 150 Northwestern students rallied to demand an Asian-American studies minor. In May 1998, 100 students attended a teach-in about the struggle for a program.

But in January 2001, as the Asian-American studies program marks its first quarter at NU, just four students have declared the minor.

Asian-American studies program staff members attribute the lack of interest to poor publicity. And part of the problem might be the program’s limited staff, which consists of an interim director, a program assistant and two full-time professors, one of whom is on maternity leave.

“With just two junior (faculty members), it’s hard to carry the program,” said English Prof. Dorothy Wang, whose Asian-American Literature class this quarter fulfills a core requirement of the minor.

The launch of the Asian-American studies minor this quarter was the culmination of nearly a decade of student activism, beginning with an Asian American Advisory Board proposal in 1991. Protests peaked in 1995 with a hunger strike by 17 students. In April 1999, NU hired Wang and history Prof. Ji-Yeon Yuh as the program’s first core faculty members.

Program assistant Ziehyun Huh, who joined the staff this quarter, said she hopes to add a third faculty member or visiting lecturer — but her primary concern is letting students know the minor is available.

“I think a lot of it is a lack of awareness, and since we have a staff right now, it’s our responsibility to get the word out as soon as possible,” Huh said. “Part of it is (students) don’t see that many course offerings, but we’re planning on expanding the program.”

One student who has declared the minor is Vishal Vaid, a Weinberg senior who participated in the rallies and teach-ins. Vaid is a part of the most active generation of students who fought for the program, and said he plans to spend the remainder of his year educating younger students about the significance of the minor.

“This quarter I’m going to start the recruitment effort,” Vaid said. “(The older students) were more privy to a lot of the information and the need for the program. The process may need to be restarted. People need to understand the need for the program. The students with most of the energy have left or are leaving this year. Before the people this year leave, they need to make sure the campus is aware of those needs.”

Huh also has made presentations at the three Asian-American studies classes offered this quarter, including Wang’s Asian-American Literature course.

Wang said her class is filled to its 30-student capacity. Yuh, who will return Spring Quarter, taught three classes last year that also were filled to capacity. But despite the popularity of the program’s classes, many students are not signing up for the minor.

“I think I’m just going to take the classes because I already have two majors, speech pathology and Asian studies,” said Karen Liu, a Speech sophomore. “I want to avoid the overlap.”

Education junior Lisa Chang said her schedule is too full to pursue the minor.

“I would consider it if I had time,” said Chang, a social policy major. “But since I declared (my major) really late, like this year, I don’t have time to take too many other classes.”

Vaid will have met all of the minor requirements after this quarter.

He had been taking South Asian classes in hopes of creating an ad hoc minor in South Asian studies or Asian-American studies. But now he is able to declare the minor he helped create.

“There’s no way in hell I’m not going to minor in it,” Vaid said. “I’ve been anticipating this moment for quite some time. We’ve been fighting since freshman year, and it’s really gratifying to see everything fall into place.”

But Huh said not quite everything is in place yet. The minor has the support of the university, but without more students signing up, the program will not expand.

“We want the minor to get a dialogue with the students,” Huh said. “That’s why this is a unique opportunity. They can take ownership of this program because it’s so new.”