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Drew University Event Tackles Asian American Discrimination, Representation

Social activist and UMD Prof. Janelle Wong leads important discussion

November 2021 – Drew University welcomed Janelle Wong, a professor at the University of Maryland and a cutting-edge social activist seeking more Asian American representation at universities, to speak to the Drew community about the importance of Asian American and ethnic studies in higher education.

Jinee Lokaneeta, chair and professor of political science and international relations, welcomed the speaker and the audience to the important conversation.

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Janelle Wong, professor of American studies and Asian American studies at UMD.

Spearheaded by Sangay Mishra, associate professor of political science, and political science student Jeehae Park C’23, the virtual workshop included testimonials from Asian American students who shared personal experiences and perspectives on the topic. With over 140 attendees, the event furthered the conversation on Asian American studies and experiences at Drew. 

Wong’s presentation on the importance of Asian American studies first detailed the history of Asian people in the U.S. and how instances of anti-Asian hate seen today echo historical accounts of racism.

“Asian American history anticipates and reminds us that anti-Asian American violence and sentiment is not new… it underscores the ways that laws influence dominant ideas of race,” she said. 

Such discrimination has developed over time with the continued prevalence of the “forever foreigner” construct and now the “model minority” stereotype. Wong explained that Asian American studies can help provide more context to these issues and educate those who may not understand.

Wong explained the role that students play in this issue, empowering Drew students to take action.

“Asian American studies’ growth has always resulted from student activism, as a product of student demand and advocacy.”

Following Wong’s talk, Asian American students provided testimonials as to why Drew should work towards such programs.

“The week we spent [in my Race and Politics course] on Asian American politics transformed my identity, story, and political landscape. It was upsetting, as I felt that my own story had previously been hidden from me."

“BIPOC people and history are central to U.S. history, and in order to be a diverse campus, Drew must reflect this diversity through the courses they offer,” said Vedantika Mohile C’22.

Speaking to education, Mohile explained how non-AAPI students may hold a “colonial image of eastern culture,” and that offering diverse courses can work to fix this. 

Nguyen Pham C’22 reflected on the power offering diverse courses can have.

“The week we spent [in my Race and Politics course] on Asian American politics transformed my identity, story, and political landscape. It was upsetting, as I felt that my own story had previously been hidden from me,” she said. 

Student Government President Kareena Salvi C’23 echoed these sentiments, explaining how Asian American studies have helped her learn more about herself, and given her the tools to help explain her experience. 

Pham also highlighted that these experiences allowed her to view other courses through a more nuanced lens, reiterating the importance of providing other students with this experience. 

Pooja Kasarapu C’23 noted that integrating Asian American content into lectures and discussions in various existing courses is a good first step to ensuring a wide range of students gain this information. Wong, too, reflected on this, saying Asian American studies programs on every campus are different and do not solely exist within the confines of Political Science or Sociology. 

Christine Joseph C’25 pointed out that, as a whole, “academia is incredibly white-washed,” and noted how she experienced some “culture shock” when coming to Drew.

These testimonials and the event in general highlighted both systemic and personal reasons to continue to incorporate Asian American studies and perspectives into course offerings, and reflect the diversity at Drew.

This story was written by Anna Smith C’22. Anna is a political science and public health double major. She is involved in the Elections Chair in Drew Student Government and is captain of the Drew Women’s Rugby team.

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