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Friday February 3rd

'Let’s Not Celebrate Asian Americans, Let’s Fight for Them': UNC's 2022 Keohane Lecture

Dr. Pawan Dhingra from Amherst College will be giving the 2022 Keohane Distinguished Lecture at the Carolina Inn on Oct. 27, 2022. Photo courtesy of Pawan Dhingra.
Buy Photos Dr. Pawan Dhingra from Amherst College will be giving the 2022 Keohane Distinguished Lecture at the Carolina Inn on Oct. 27, 2022. Photo courtesy of Pawan Dhingra.

Pawan Dhingra, associate provost and associate dean of the faculty at Amherst College, will travel to UNC at the end of October to discuss the connection between the rising levels of respect for Asian Americans and the increasing racial violence against them.

“Celebrations are not necessarily creating acceptance,” Dhingra said. 

Dhingra is this year’s selection for the Nannerl O. Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professorship, a program that brings prominent faculty to give three guest lectures at UNC and Duke University over the course of a year. Dhingra’s lecture will be held at UNC on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hill Ballroom of the Carolina Inn.

His lecture “Let’s Not Celebrate Asian Americans, Let’s Fight for Them” aims to provide a better understanding of issues regarding race and how to move toward social justice through the discussion of Asian American experiences. 

“I hope to further a conversation on campuses around how Asian Americans fit within the racial landscape and to problematize some of our more straightforward thinking around how to commemorate Asian Americans,” Dhingra said. 

Heidi Kim, director of the UNC Asian American Center, played an instrumental role in bringing Dhingra to Chapel Hill. With the University opening the doors to the Asian American Center in 2020 and Duke recently founding an Asian American and Diaspora Studies Program, Kim viewed the Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professorship as an opportunity to recognize and encourage this growth by bringing in a significant figure in Asian American studies. 

Kim said while COVID-19 bolstered harmful stereotypes, discrimination against Asian Americans is not a new concept. 

“It has these really deep roots that are around issues of colonialism, religious difference and economic competition; all these things coming together and often intersecting in really pernicious ways," she said.

UNC first-year Megan Lam said she felt like an outlier growing up in Laurinburg, a small town in North Carolina. She said she was often asked about her ability to speak English and which part of Asia she was from, despite being born in Charlotte.

“I definitely have been isolated growing up just because of my race and how I look,” Lam said. 

The prevalence of the Asian population at UNC intrigued and excited Lam, and she said she finally feels a sense of belonging within her community. Lam said she appreciates the general open-mindedness of UNC students, but knows there is still work to be done.

Lam, alongside Dhingra and Kim, emphasized the importance of opening up conversation about Asian American violence and raising awareness for the situation. 

Dhingra’s work not only highlights discrimination against Asian Americans, but also investigates the ways Asian Americans are represented and celebrated in the public sphere. 

For example, while increased media exposure of Asian Americans is a seemingly positive thing that will promote acceptance, Dhingra said he challenges the viewer to think critically about the way they are being represented. 

“When we’re watching a movie and see certain narratives being displayed, asking ourselves why is this story the story that not only they decided to tell, but the public decided to embrace?” Dhingra questioned. “What’s not being included in this narrative?” 

Dhingra’s upcoming guest lecture will investigate these topics more thoroughly. The lecture is free and open to the public. 

“The hope is that these lectures really appeal to as broad a swath of people as possible,” Kim said. “So that we're creating a bigger conversation and reaching out to more people.” 

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