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  • Teaching Texts: Unexpected Sites of Knowledge and PracticePart One of a Two-Part Forum
  • Yoonmee Chang (bio), Tina Chen (bio), Shilpa Davé (bio), Jennifer Ho (bio), and Paul Lai (bio)


Yoonmee Chang

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THERE are no Asian American students in an Asian American Studies (AAS) classroom? What does it mean when there are only Asian American students in an AAS classroom? What do these polarized classroom situations tell us about the institutional value of AAS research and curricula? This two-part series discusses how new and familiar institutional limits can be turned into strategic opportunities to expand the reach of AAS. Rather than seeking a modest foothold for AAS, we contend that the specific practices of AAS can redefine the university's vision of intellectual inquiry across the curriculum. We look at two institutional models—the incorporation of AAS into the curriculum as "diversity" courses and the development of AAS primarily to serve the needs of growing Asian American student populations. Although the resulting classroom dynamics—few Asian American students in the classroom on the one hand, and often only Asian American students on the other—can ghettoize the field, they also enable us to craft a nuanced theory and practice of AAS that can transform the larger academic landscape.

The essays in the first part of this series offer a theory and practice of AAS in campuses and classrooms with few Asian American students. Each of the authors is one of a few Asian Americanists (if not the only [End Page 181]

Asian Americanist) on her campus, whose courses are primarily taken to fulfill a diversity requirement or as electives to complement other fields of study. Often facing all-white student audiences whose attitudes towards AAS range from fetishizing curiosity to racial hostility, these authors discuss how they use classroom dynamics to nuance students' assumptions about AAS as well as to refine the larger goals of intellectual inquiry. The second collection of essays, which will follow in the next issue of JAAS, examines AAS in institutions with relatively strong AAS programs. Here, Asian American students and local communities have been instrumental in founding and developing the field, and classrooms are comprised primarily of Asian American students versed in the language of race and hierarchies of power. While acknowledging the luxury of having colleagues, students and local communities with shared vocabularies, these contributors discuss the limits of "preaching to the choir" and offer alternative practices to expand the reach and impact of AAS.

This series was developed from a panel presented at the 2004 East of California (EOC) conference at Vanderbilt University. It continues EOC's ongoing work in developing research programs and pedagogical strategies in campuses with limited resources allocated to AAS and often with few AAS students and faculty. Here, we expand our discussion to include AAS on campuses across the nation, focusing on making the field relevant and necessary for all students. To this end, we seek a theory and practice of AAS beyond the "critical mass" model.1 The critical mass model operates under the logic that the greater the number of Asian American students on campus, the greater the need for AAS. This model has certainly been successful and necessary; courses turn into programs and departments, which well-serve the visible and growing Asian American populations on many college campuses. Indeed, without the activism of student and local Asian American communities, many AAS programs would not exist. But, developing AAS through the critical mass model alone risks perpetuating a faulty assumption—that AAS is only relevant to Asian American students—thereby marginalizing the field as a minority interest as well as a minor discipline that is overly concerned with seemingly extra-academic questions of identity. Moreover, in campuses without sizable Asian American populations, the logic of the critical mass model can be manipulated to justify the minimal development or absence of AAS [End Page 182] when, as Sharon Lee notes, it is universities without large Asian American populations that have a particular need for AAS, given the lack of social venues for all students to engage with Asian American histories, cultural productions, and communities.2

The first set of essays...


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