Letter to the Editor: AASP and LLSP demand the resources, autonomy of departmental status

“What aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you?”

The supplemental Northwestern application supplement is meant to display why you want to be at this institution that prides itself on a “diverse academic community.” However, there is a sizeable gap between the values that the University claims to hold and how it actually distributes its resources. The faculty and programs that give the University its coveted “diversity” are not the faculty and programs that it chooses to support. Without that support, then how are students supposed to know that their “Why Northwestern?” could lie in ethnic studies?

The Asian American Studies Program and the Latina and Latino Studies Program are just that: programs, not departments. With that program status comes many deficiencies: deficient space, deficient faculty numbers, deficient resources and deficient autonomy. NU has the potential to become a flagship institution for critical Latinx and Asian American Studies in the Midwest, but the limitations that come with their current status heavily stunt that potential. Both programs have seen great quantitative and qualitative growth, and require the corresponding resources and autonomy that departmental status can provide.

Contrary to popular belief, Asian American Studies and Latinx Studies are not new fields. In fact, they have existed since the Third World Liberation Front student strikes at San Francisco State University in 1968 — a whopping 50 years ago. NU’s AASP and LLSP follow that long history of student activism. AASP was born due to student demand, culminating in a hunger strike that resulted in the program’s creation in 1999. Students fought long and hard with similar demands and collective work for LLSP, which was established in 2008 when the University finally listened and established the program. The two programs have since grown immensely — according to program statistics, the number of AASP minors increased from eight to 36 in 10 years and the number of LLSP majors and minors increased from 10 to 44 in a shorter time span. NU students were unable to major in Asian American Studies until the 2016-17 academic year.

Departmental status is an imperative step that the University must take to account for this growth in students.

Despite the program’s growth, the AASP budget has remained the same since 2004, and the LLSP budget has not changed since 2011 — both according to program officials. Both programs are forced to spend valuable time and resources to fundraise for relevant events. Also, AASP and LLSP currently share facilities in Crowe Hall, with insufficient spaces for visiting faculty, post-doctoral fellows and directors. According to the program, the AASP director has had to share a space with a visiting assistant professor due to lack of office space. Beyond the implications for the faculty members themselves, this lack of space prevents them from meeting with students as well.

In addition, the programs face a number of obstacles in hiring new faculty, especially since full-time and tenure-track professors in the programs are required to be housed within a department. For example, LLSP director and Weinberg Prof. Frances Aparicio is in the Spanish and Portuguese department. As such, AASP and LLSP do not have autonomy over the faculty they hire and must instead submit to the wants and needs of various different departments. And when professors are hired, they must split their time between AASP or LLSP and their own corresponding department. These split appointments prevent faculty from being able to dedicate sufficient time to AASP or LLSP, and this division of labor especially puts a strain on program directors.

This also results in a heavy reliance on temporary hires, such as visiting professors and post-doctoral fellows, resulting in high course turnover and institutional amnesia. The power of departments prevents AASP and LLSP from hiring faculty within their own fields. A quick look at their faculty rosters reveals that none of the tenure-track professors hold a Ph.D. in Asian American Studies or Latinx Studies. Instead, they are trained in history, anthropology, English and a variety of other academic fields.

Facilities and faculty are only two logistical reasons why AASP and LLSP require departmental status. Moreover, granting these programs departmental status ultimately benefits the University in both the short and long term. With the current initiative to have 20 percent of incoming freshmen be Pell Grant-eligible by 2020, as well as the Social Inequalities and Diversities requirement for Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences students on the table, there will be more students than ever looking for spaces like AASP and LLSP, and departmental status could give more professors time to be able to teach classes that offer the diversity they need.

Latinx Asian American Collective