Community looks at Asian-American historical figures


New learning option for spring to focus on Asian-American studies


The Asian-American Studies Learning Community is scheduled to open this spring to provide an outlet for students to learn about the role Asian-Americans occupy in history.

The new community focuses on a 1.5 credit class called “Power to the People! Asian-Americans Make History.” The syllabus covers the civil rights movement and the intersections of radical politics between Asian-American, Latin-America and African-American coalitions.

Membership is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors with a cumulative GPA of 2.7 or higher who are in the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers Business School and Mason Gross School of the Arts, according to the Learning Communities website.

Ryan Ramones, member of the Asian-American Cultural Center Leadership Cabinet, said the class could help Asian-American students learn more about themselves through understanding the history of their hybrid culture.

“Being Asian-American is very unique nowadays,” he said. “You have your American identity and Asian identity, and not all the time do they mesh well together. Taking this class would really open your eyes to the history of that duality of identity within the context of American history.”

But the community goes beyond the classroom through making the history more personal, said Rosanna Reyes, assistant director of Learning Communities at the University.

“It’s not just about the class,” she said. “It’s the experience. They get to talk to faculty in the field and be in a community.”

Demand for a learning community with an Asian-American Studies focus has grown in recent years, Ramones said.

“When students are looking for classes to take, there are classes focusing on the Latino-Americans and the African-Americans but there’s nothing for Asian-Americans,” he said. “It’s kind of a blind spot when we look back at ourselves as a culture.”

As of 2010, 19.1 percent of the undergraduate student population in New Brunswick is Asian-American, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Academic Planning. Asian-Americans are the largest ethnic group at the University, in comparison to Latinos, who make up 10.7 percent of the demographic, while African-Americans comprise 9.9 percent.

But the community is open to all students and does not insist on closing itself off to other ethnicities, Reyes said.

“The class is available to all students — not just Asian-Americans,” she said. “It’s for anyone who is interested in Asian-American studies and wants to be part of a learning community environment.”

Though the department does not offer a major or minor yet, the development is a real cause for celebration, as the cabinet has been trying to pass the initiative for a decade now, said Rick Lee, instructor in the Department of English, in an email.

“In the past decade, several cohorts of the leadership cabinet have campaigned tirelessly for the institutionalization of Asian-American studies at Rutgers,” he said.

After a planning process the learning community became a reality with the support of the faculty, especially the American Studies Department, Reyes said. 

Ramones said he expects the administration will proceed with efforts to expand the community and finally make Asian-American studies accessible as an academic concentration.

“At the end of the day, the University is there to serve the needs of the students,” he said. “As long as the students can demonstrate that this is something they need, and this is for the University’s best interests, I believe President Barchi will respond positively to this.”

For the past two years, a larger initiative has featured the work of undergraduate student scholars at the Annual Undergraduate Symposium on Asians in the Americas and the Diaspora to present various forms of cultural expression, Lee said.

“The AASLC is one component of a larger initiative spearheaded by the Collective for Asian-American Studies and the Department of American Studies to provide opportunities for our undergraduates,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed Rosanna Reyes' quotes to Ghada Endick, director of learning communities at the University. The article also misquoted Reyes' in saying that there was no planning involved in the creation of the learning community. Instead, a structured proposal process put together by the faculty and staff expedited the creation of the proposal.


By Lisa Berkman

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