Asian American Advocacy Project spearheads initiatives on campus to foster greater AAPI representation

The project strives to foster Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation through new major and minor offerings.

The+Student+Life+Center

Alex Venero

The Student Life Center, as photographed on Sept. 25, 2019. (Hustler Multimedia/Alex Venero)

Claire Cho, Staff Writer

CORRECTED: This story was corrected on March 16 at approximately 11:37 p.m. CDT to more accurately reflect Yuh-Fen Benda’s opinions. 

To promote Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation and diversity on campus, sophomore co-directors Rohit Kataria and Angela Yan have spearheaded opportunities in the past three months to establish the Asian American Studies Initiative (AASI) as a student organization—the Asian American Advocacy Project (AAAP). The organization strives to promote the movement for the establishment of an Asian American Studies major and other opportunities for AAPI individuals on campus. 

The AASI originally aimed to establish both a graduate and undergraduate Asian American Diaspora Studies Center and Department, as well as to push the university to hire faculty that specialize in Asian American Studies and Asian Diaspora. The group is now advocating for the creation of a Department of Asian American Studies with an Asian American Diaspora major and minor.

Currently, the College of Arts and Science has an Asian Studies Department that hosts an Asian Studies major, along with minors in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and South Asian languages and cultures. In Fall 2021, in response to the AASI, Vanderbilt hired three new professors to teach classes in Asian American Studies through the Asian Studies major. Professor Vivian Shaw and Professor Mark Sanchez will begin teaching Asian American Studies in Fall 2022, and Professor Huan He will begin teaching Asian American Studies in Fall 2023.

Per Kataria, AAAP and the Asian American Student Association (AASA) utilized Asian American alumni support in Fall 2021 to assist with their campaign for an Asian American Studies major and to create solidarity between Asian cultural organizations on campus. 

“We want to be proactive about making sure that everyone who identifies as Asian American is seen and heard, going beyond the larger categories of East and South Asian,” Kataria said.

In November 2021, Kataria and Yan spoke with Vanderbilt faculty members as well as professors at Stanford University and other schools that have an Asian American Studies major to gain insight on how other campuses spearheaded their Asian American Studies program. They said they intend to use this information to help establish a similar curriculum at Vanderbilt.

“It’s been really motivational to have the people we’ve been talking to cheering us on, and we’ve been able to complete so much in the past three months,” Yan said. 

The organization has also been working with Vanderbilt Asian Studies librarian Yuh-Fen Benda to create an online Asian American library research guide. Benda said she appreciates that TAAAP has allowed for more Asian American representation in Vanderbilt’s academia. Per Benda, creating a general library guide for Asian American Studies is a natural progression of the student community’s increasing efforts to further incorporate Asian American education and literature into Vanderbilt’s curriculum.

“I wanted to create a general library guide for Asian American Studies that is easy to access for everyone,” Benda said.

The AAAP will be hosting a speaker event featuring Helen Zia, a prominent Asian American activist, on March 24 at 7 p.m. CST at the Commons Center. The AAAP said the event will focus on Asian American activism.