Press Release: November 14, 2002

Provost Begins Search for Asian American Center Director, Studies Program Still on Hold

Steven Tham, AACC Publicity
Chicago, IL

After years of demands and months of waiting, the search for a director of the forthcoming Asian American Resource and Cultural Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago will begin. Approved on November 7, 2002 by the new UIC provost, Michael Tanner, the search will begin as soon as administrative details are worked out. The Asian American Coalition Committee (AACC) met with Provost Tanner on the same day to discuss the status of the proposed Asian American Resource and Cultural Center (AARCC) and Asian American studies program. In addition to AACC officers, more than thirty other students attended the meeting in support of the center and studies program, representing organizations including Undergraduate Student Government, Asian American Students in Alliance, Chi Sigma Tau Fraternity, alpha Kappa Delta Phi Sorority, Hindu Students Council, Filipinos in Alliance, Sikh Students Association, Indian Students Association, Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity, and Muslim Students Association. The meeting was AACC's first with the new provost, who joined UIC this academic year. Meetings with provosts in past years gave strong commitments for the start of a cultural center, but due to changes in university administration in the past few years, the steps to developing the center were not taken until now.

Although the location of the resource and cultural center still remains an issue, the search for a director will proceed. In light of the state and university's financial crisis, this is a brave move for UIC, but students see this is as only the beginning of the long process toward their plan of what the center will be. Ultimately, students envision a center with fully functional staff to provide and organize educational and support services to students. A key component in the demand for the AARCC is the need for staff trained in Asian American sensitivity, especially in counseling and academic advising.

AACC brought up a number of appeals to Tanner, expecting him to address them to his fullest ability. In addition to the search for a director for the cultural center were the prospective timeline for the opening of the center, its physical location, the hiring of an event programming director, support staff, and an operating budget for the entire venture. The questions of the hiring of faculty in Asian American history, the implementation of the Asian American studies minor, and expansion of the selection in Asian language courses were also brought to Tanner's attention. Students further noted the need for a permanent faculty member in Hindi-Urdu language [currently graduate student lecturers teach the courses] and an official budget for the annual Asian American Awareness Month. Tanner was unable to provide a solid response to these issues. His decision to proceed with the search for the AARCC director was prioritized on the fact that the search was promised by previous administration. Students reminded Tanner that strong commitments were also made to searching for a faculty line in History in Asian American studies. He wasn't able to adequately address that issue.

The AARCC will also play a key role in developing an Asian American Studies Program at UIC. The two will work hand-in-hand by serving as a resource for students, staff, and faculty and will further underscore UIC's commitment to Asian American studies, diversity, and its urban mission. Although the studies program was discussed at the meeting, Tanner noted that because of the UIC's flat budget and rising operating costs, any immediate action toward building the program is unlikely. However, students strongly displayed not only their demand for a studies program, but also articulated the critical need for one at UIC. Concerned student Wen Chen stated, "Without learning about Asian American history, our nation's history is inadequately portrayed. An Asian American Studies Program will educate everyone-not solely Asian Americans-of where APA's [Asian Pacific Americans] have come from, what their current situation is, and where their place will be in our nation's future. UIC has taken too long to address this issue. Progress must be made now!"

Other students didn't accept Tanner's budget excuse for denying the university the studies program. "The lack of money to establish the program isn't a good enough excuse. If UIC were to wait for extra money to be available for such a project, [the studies program] will never [be established]. When will extra money ever be available?" stressed Jeniann Yi, an AACC officer.

In regards to UIC's diversity, Bindu Varghese, president of alpha Kappa Delta Phi sorority noted, "It's time that UIC students benefit from our diversity. We can learn from each other [much greater] if we have an Asian American studies program, which is essential for this campus."

Students also declared that UIC has the opportunity to become a leader in Asian American studies in the Chicago area by adding more faculty now as Loyola University's Asian and Asian American Studies Program has been hit hard by budget woes within the past years. UIC also has quite a way to catch up to other Midwest universities in Asian American studies. The University of Wisconsin at Madison, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign all offer a minor in Asian American Studies. If UIC wishes to further its drive to become a top research university and remain competitive with its peer institutions, it must make a large leap in its commitment to its program by bringing more faculty for the Asian American studies program. Graduate student John Park stated that "there is a new path to be developed [in Asian American studies] in the Midwest, and everyone in the discipline is waiting for a new model to emerge. UIC can best fulfill this charge." President of Undergraduate Student Government, Angel Alvarez, who was present at the meeting with the provost, said "UIC's mission embraces education, service, and research. Creating an Asian American studies program offers the perfect opportunity to improve the competitiveness of UIC and improve scholarship by embracing those three goals." He went further to state that "UIC cannot afford to go without [taking advantage of] this opportunity. [More] faculty in this program-many of whom can be made by dual appointments-can bring research dollars to the university."

UIC's large Asian American student population is also a legitimate reason for having a program here. Almost 25% of undergrads, 20% of graduate students, and 34% of professional students are Asian American. Given this fact, AACC senior advisor Rena Patel remarked at the meeting, "Students and faculty at institutions from around the country are surprised to know that we do not have a studies program." Tanner concurred on this point. UIC currently has an African American Studies Program, Latin American and Latino Studies Program, African American Cultural Center, and Latino Cultural Center. There are also student services offices catering to African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Given UIC's urban mission and commitment to diversity, it is only logical and reasonable that Asian Americans be included in this representation by establishing the AARCC and studies program to join the services that already exist.

Student movements are the sole driving factor in establishing studies programs and cultural centers such as the ones AACC is striving for. Student struggles at UIUC caused the administration to establish their AA studies program in 1997. In 1995, a hunger strike by students at Northwestern University brought about courses in Asian American Studies that led to a minor in 2000. In March 2000 at UIC, AACC's predecessor, the Coalition for Asian American Studies, held a protest and rally addressing the studies program. AACC's effort has brought about the hiring of two tenure-track professors in the Department of English who focus on Asian American studies, but more has to be done. AACC and other concerned students want the university to further act on its commitment to diversity by expanding the program to academic fields such as history, anthropology, sociology, theater, art, psychology, political science, and social work. Without a larger number and variety of faculty lines, a minor in Asian American studies cannot be started. Furthermore, "[T]here is great potential in expanding the program to the west side-UIC's unique feature-to include the medical and health professional disciplines," says Rena Patel.

Cathy Kuo, president of AACC concludes, "This is only the beginning. Students will not back down until Asian Americans are recognized on this campus and our needs are addressed with the studies program and cultural center."

The Asian American Coalition Committee is a progressive student organization spearheading the campaign for the AARCC and Asian American studies program. AACC also aims to unify Asian American students at UIC to make them more visible and their voice stronger. In addition to programming various events throughout the year that fulfill its mission to unify, educate, and empower, AACC has worked hard to begin the AARCC, for which it helped write an extensive business plan, and the studies program, which resulted in the hiring of the first Asian Americanist faculty in English.