The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt announces new Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies major and minor

The Department of Asian Studies has created a degree-bearing program focused on the Asian and Asian American diaspora, following initiatives launched by students.
Barrie Barto
A sign advertising the Asian Studies program, as photographed on Jan. 26, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

Vanderbilt’s Department of Asian Studies will begin offering a new undergraduate interdisciplinary program in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies as both a major and minor. The program is currently available for students to declare, and it aims to provide students with an understanding of Asian and Asian American history, perspectives and other aspects of the diaspora.

Junior Rohit Kataria, co-director of the Asian American Advocacy Project along with junior Angela Yan, cited a student-led petition from December 2020 signed by over 1000 students as the initial push for this new program. This movement was accelerated following the March 2021 shootings in Atlanta in which eight people, including six of Asian descent, were killed. Iris Kim (‘21), who previously led the organization, said the Asian American Advocacy Project asked the Department of Asian Studies and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to respond to the tragedy by establishing the new program, hiring faculty with expertise in Asian and Asian American Diaspora studies and forging a stronger Asian American community at Vanderbilt.

“I personally was advised that we should realistically expect a three-year period of negotiating/commitments from the university to one of these three objectives,” Kim said in a message to The Hustler. “So to see that, in two years, nearly all of the details have been brought to life — it is hard to believe, to be honest.”

The student push for this program contributed to the creation of the AAPI Identity Initiative — an affinity group for Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities — and the hiring of three new faculty members to the Department of Asian Studies: Vivian Shaw, Mark Sanchez and Huan He. Kataria and Yan both said they provided feedback to the department about candidates during the process.

“It’s really important to have this major and minor in Asian American Studies at Vanderbilt to not only help Asian Americans, like myself, make sense of our experiences, to learn more about our community and how we can be in solidarity with one another but also to help the broader Vanderbilt community,” Yan said. 

Yan added that the major and minor will allow students to explore the diversity of the Asian American experience. The AAAD Studies program includes courses about Asian American culture, diaspora studies, history, literature, art, sociology and politics. Kataria said the program’s Asian language requirement is unique among peer institutions. Yan stated that taking Mandarin courses has allowed her to connect more deeply with her own Asian American experience.

“It’s only when I’m getting to the upper levels of Chinese language — where I’m able to really understand the language and cultural nuances — that it’s making me reflect on a lot of my values and my family’s emphasis on togetherness,” Yan said.

Acting Chair of the Department of Asian Studies Ben Tran said he believes this program will be beneficial for all Vanderbilt students in understanding current and historic issues of race around the world. Tran added that the new program can help the Vanderbilt community learn about and grapple with COVID-19-driven xenophobia and recent hate crimes within the Asian community, citing the Jan. 23 shooting in Monterey Park, California, in which 11 Asian people were killed.

He expressed gratitude for the efficiency of Vanderbilt administration during the development process and for the cooperation between faculty and students.

“I think the impact [of the AAAD Studies program] is incredible because faculty, staff, students and administration came together to build something to show that it can be done,” Tran said. “I find that kind of working together to be significant and to really address our changing communities.”

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About the Contributors
Alison Winters, Deputy News Editor
Alison Winters (‘25) is from Franklin, Tenn., and is majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in psychology in the College of Arts and Science. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her at the movie theater, reading a good book or attending a concert in Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Barrie Barto, Senior Staff Photographer
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with a minor neuroscience in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. Outside of The Hustler, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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