Students associated with the Asian Pacific Americans for Action at Cornell University (APAA) are demanding the University create an Asian-American Studies major beginning next semester.
In a letter, anonymous students argue that, “The University must give Asian American Studies more resources, because students want to learn about these histories.”
“The current program is crucial in allowing students the opportunity to engage with the experiences of a diverse and varied community that comprises almost 25% of Cornell. For too long, the majority of these voices have been absent from or silenced on a local and national scale. We demand that the University hear us as we call for the creation of an Asian American Studies Major,” the letter continues.
The letter and accompanying Facebook event advertising a rally to be held at this week’s Student Assembly meeting cite interdisciplinary scholarship, representation, expression, necessity, and relevance as the five reasons for this new major.
“Founded in 1987, the Cornell Asian American Studies Program was the first of its kind in the Ivy League. However, since its creation and despite a growing demand and interest in Asian American Studies in recent years, the Program has remained under-resourced and understaffed as a program that has one of the smallest operating budgets in the College of Arts and Sciences,” the letter reads.
The letter also cites the demands of Black Students United at Cornell University (BSU) from last fall semester; that group demanded the creation of Latino Studies and American Indian Studies majors in addition to Asian-American Studies by the end of 2016. The administration made no known public comments about BSU’s demands.
Despite all its flowery language, the letter does not make a concrete case for the creation of an Asian American Studies major.
The letter points out that since 1997 the number of students enrolled in Asian American department classes has doubled, but in a previous section it also complains that all 4-5 classes in this department are cross-listed with other departments such as anthropology and history (i.e. take one course and it can count for credit in either of the departments). With this arrangement, it is unknown whether the increased student enrollment in Asian-American Studies classes is due to greater student interest in Asian American studies itself or if it is due to greater interest in the departments which have courses cross-listed with Asian American Studies. An overall increase in the prevalence of cross-listed courses could also explain this trend.
Even if interest in the program has grown, it is nowhere near as intense as student interest in business courses, especially finance, and computer science. Obviously, this is because, in general, business and STEM majors prepare students for higher-paying jobs outside the realm of academia. If Cornell were to create an Asian-American Studies major, it would be almost irresponsible: allowing parents/students to pay $60,000+ a year to take classes in, basically, what it means to be Asian-American. The curriculum can be learned by befriending an Asian-American.
In fact, if students do want to learn about the Asian world, they can already major in or take classes in the highly successful China and Asia-Pacific Studies department at Cornell, which boasts a finely structured cirriculum requiring four years of Chinese language training and semesters spent in both Beijing and Washington, D.C. The department website boasts that its graduates go into fields ranging from consulting to diplomacy to financial services.
Most likely, there is but a handful of students who would actually want an Asian-American Studies major. One might guess the number is no greater than 20.
What justifies the creation of a major with no real-word applications; that is a simplified derivative of an already successful and thriving major; and that only a very small number of students would pursue?
The students behind this push make reference to Cornell’s famous “any person, any study” motto, but they misunderstand it. This guiding principle does not mean Cornell must create a major to satisfy every single person’s particular academic interests. In other words, it doesn’t mean “one student, one major.”