Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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APAC meets to remember hunger strike

The Asian Pacific American Coalition gathered Wednesday at the Multicultural Center to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 1995 hunger strike when students demanded an Asian American studies program at Northwestern.

At the meeting members evaluated the program’s progress and discussed ways to strengthen curricula.

Since 1991 the Asian American Advisory Board held student-organized seminars and petition drives to demand the creation of an Asian American academic program. Efforts to put pressure on university administrators culminated in a 21-day hunger strike at The Rock in 1995.

Even with media coverage from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times and an agreement with administrators to consider requests of the students, the Asian American studies program was not officially created until 1999. Courses in the minor weren’t offered until 2000.

As students at Wednesday’s event munched ramen noodles — the food that helped strikers transition from consuming only water, juice and crackers to eating regularly again — they viewed a documentary filmed April 23, 1995.

The movie contained an interview with Charles Chun, who went 12 days without food, and speeches from students of various ethnic backgrounds on the steps of University Hall.

Several students in the video expressed discontent at the number of ethnic studies curricula offered. After the documentary ended, members of APAC and Asian American studies students discussed why the minor is important to NU, where 16.5 percent of students are Asian American.

“Initially I was skeptical,” McCormick freshman Catherine Chen said, describing her first impressions of an Asian American program. “There’s already so much Asian American separation — why do we need another venue? But when I got to college, I thought about the need for a unifying organization and the importance of having diversity.”

A common concern of strikers and current group members is that Asian American history is often excluded from general history courses.

“There’s a need for a unified entity, but also for an academic content that creates a cohesive history and a sense of heritage for Asian Americans,” said Rosa Nguyen, Weinberg junior and APAC education co-chairwoman.

Even after 10 years, Asian American studies still struggles to be taken seriously by administrators, students said.

The program grew quickly during its first two years but has since arrived at a standstill. Last year leaders of cultural groups submitted a letter outlining a proposal to improve the lack of progress within the department as well as the neglect of the administration. The Asian American studies department still is facing these issues, they said. Students also recognized that there are not programs in other ethnic studies, such as Native American studies.

“Ethnic studies is part of that complete package that you expect from a good school,” said Janet Kim, Medill junior and APAC co-vice president.

Compared to other academic fields, Asian American studies constantly needs to prove itself to the administration, students said.

“Other programs have low enrollment, but when we have it, it’s assumed that it’s because of a lack of interest,” said Weinberg senior and program coordinator Antoinette Nguyen.

The next move should be to create an Asian American studies major, instead of just a minor, said Tedd Vanadilok, director of Asian and Asian American Student Affairs. Whereas the major may attract mainly Asian Americans, students of other ethnic backgrounds can benefit from the program.

“Often the most engaged students happen to be non-Asians, because they’re learning something that’s different from their own experience,” Vanadilok said.

Reach Kristyn Schiavone at [email protected].

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APAC meets to remember hunger strike