‘We are systematically not represented’: Alumni group pushes for Dartmouth’s first AAPI studies department

  • In early December, Dartmouth’s Asian Pacific American Alumni Association (DAPAAA) announced that it will start a fund to be put towards an Asian American and Pacific Islander studies department.
  • The fund has raised about $203,000 so far.
  • The establishment of the fund follows a pivotal year of campus activism, during which the Dartmouth Asian American Studies Collective collected 1,200 signatures in support of the department.

In early December, Dartmouth’s Asian Pacific American Alumni Association (DAPAAA) announced that it will start a fund to create an Asian American and Pacific Islander studies department.

The fund will be put towards hiring Asian American faculty and fellows as well as supporting research, new courses and off-campus programming, according to The Dartmouth.

DAPAAA member Stephanie Westnedge, who graduated in 1992, told The Dartmouth that the alumni group originally began as a book club.

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“We’re just a scrappy little group who were angry and pissed off and we needed to put our energy somewhere,” Westnedge said. “One of the big gaps at Dartmouth is there’s no course code for Asian American studies. We are just systematically not represented as a group or the study at Dartmouth.”

Westnedge said the group’s hope is that the fund will evolve into an Asian American studies department.

“I think it’s an important milestone, but we still [have] got a long way to go,” she said. “It’s encouraging that the administration is working with us and listening to us, but Dartmouth has to decide what’s the right place for Asian American studies in the curriculum.”

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According to Westnedge, DAPAA met with faculty and Asian American alum a few times during the fall to talk about the AAPI fund. The fund has since raised about $203,000 so far, and the group aims to raise an additional $200,000 by this summer.

Lily Ren, a current Dartmouth student, is a member of the Dartmouth Asian American Studies Collective, which over the last year collected 1,200 signatures in support of developing a new Asian American studies department.

“Something that we are doing to strategize is we’re trying to work with alums and faculty on these initiatives because we believe it’s important to align our interests together,” Ren told The Dartmouth. 

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Among the faculty, Dartmouth professor Eng-Beng Lim, who teaches women’s gender and sexuality studies, has also advocated for the creation of an Asian-American studies department. Although he noted to The Dartmouth that this was just one of many events that inspired him, Lim created a petition to fund the Asian American Studies program immediately following the Atlanta shootings in March 2021.

“If you were to line this up in the history of anti-Asian violence, it’s a very long history,” Lim said. “So we can’t possibly attribute [the campus activism] to that one moment [after the Atlanta spa shootings], but it’s certainly one that has been quite formative of some of these energies.”

He said that the shootings were a reminder of why teaching the history of Asian Americans is so important.

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Despite the fund’s success, Lim told The Dartmouth the fund without a department is like “putting the cart before the horse” and they need to keep moving forward in their effort even as media attention strays from Asian American hate crimes.

“So, without an actualizable plan [that] is committed to Asian American studies and Asian American students, in the context of national comparative understandings of race and ethnicity, [it] is, so far, only a hope,” he said.

Featured Image via Dartmouth Admissions

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