Wong Discusses Asian American Studies

by Lauren Reduzzi

4 mins read

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, Professor Janelle Wong of the American Studies and Political Science Department at University of Maryland, College Park, spoke to students and faculty about the value of Asian American studies in universities. The presentation was organized by the Law, Justice and Society Program, Department of Political Science and International Relations and Student Government. 

How do Asians go from being stereotyped as the “forever foreigners” to reshaping the Asian experience to one that is exceptional? This was a question that both Wong and students aimed to answer during the hour and a half long Zoom event. 

“Asian American studies as it has grown across the nation is a result of student activism,” Wong said. “It is a product of student demand.” 

Wong discussed the rise in Asian hate over the past year-and-a-half and Trump’s influence in calling COVID-19 the “Asian virus.” She said, “Asian American history reveals so many of the tensions we experience today, Chinatowns are seen as places where diseased bodies congregate.” 

During the discussion Wong distributed a series of polls for attendees to gain insight into Asian studies and to understand the gendered and racial violence against Asian Americans. Attendees had about 30 seconds to answer each poll which was centered around Asian American history. Wong then addressed the correct answer to each poll with a brief discussion on the importance of the inquiry.

“Asian Americans have experienced discrimination to ‘whiten their names’ or people can not pronounce their names,” she said. She used survey data to zero in on Asian experiences with discrimination. According to Wong, about 14% of Asian American immigrants are currently undocumented. 

“This underscores how Asian American studies present such a critical lense for understanding immigration in the U.S and presents the contradictory forces in the landscape,” Wong said.

Vedantika Mohile (‘23), who attended the event, said, “Ethnic studies in this university will help increase the students’ cultural understanding and social awareness by using the powerful tool of education that can help evaluate issues of race that plague this nation and shape a better future for BIPOC individuals.” 

Many students at the discussion also referred to Professor Sangay Mishra’s political science course, Race and Politics, when talking about classes at Drew that have exposed them to racial studies. All participants involved agreed that an increase in these kinds of studies would benefit students in many ways. 

“I feel that it is important to have Asian American and ethnic studies here at Drew because of how much of the politics of the Asian American experience and history of it can teach us about the existing systems of power and the hierarchy it creates within the minority demographics in this country,” said Nguyen Pham (‘22).

Wong agreed in her final remarks and said, “Ethnic and Asian American studies can start from one class and that one class can show that this class is something students care about and can grow from there.”

Drew will be offering courses in Race and Politics and Chinese Politics during the Spring 2022 semester and aims to expand their course offerings in the coming semesters. For more information or questions about Asian American studies, reach out to the Department of Political Science and International Relations or Student Government. 

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