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UNC to hire three faculty members focused on Asian American studies after student petition

UNC students Christina Huang, Divya Aikat, Alicia Bao, Abbey Kollu and Joanna Yeh pose outside the Undergraduate Library on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.

In spring 2024, the UNC College of Arts and Sciences will begin the process of hiring three faculty members focused on the area of Asian American studies.

The University moved forward with the hiring process after a student-made petition was created in February by Students for Asian American Studies at UNC (SAAS). 

“The hiring effort was sparked by student interest and the knowledge that North Carolina’s Asian population has become the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the state," Geneva Collins, director of communications for the college, said in an email on behalf of Dean Jim White. 

In the petition, the students requested that the University expand educational opportunities in the field of Asian American studies. 

The Asian Americanists will start during the 2024-25 academic year and work across several departments of the University. The term Asian Americanists refers to individuals who have a degree in Asian American studies or experience in the field.

At UNC, one professor will be hired to work in the history department and specialize in Asian American history. Another professor will be assigned to the American Studies department and specialize in pop culture. The final professor will be a part of the English department and specialize in South Asian diasporic literature.

Joanna Yeh, an executive member of SAAS and junior, is one of the students who spearheaded these efforts. 

“I’m really excited,” Yeh said. “I’m looking forward to meeting more people with a sense of knowledge that's really been lacking.” 

Yeh also said SAAS members officially learned the details of the Asian Americanist cluster hire on Sept. 15 during a meeting with White.

The statement from the college defined cluster hiring as “hiring faculty from different departments to research and teach on a broad topic.” 

SAAS executive member and junior Divya Aikat said competing educational institutions such as Duke University already have a specific Asian American & Diaspora Studies program, including a minor in the topic. The minor was established in 2022 after a unanimous vote from the Duke Arts and Sciences Council.

“Though it might be later in the grand scheme of bringing Asian American studies to UNC, [it’s] better late than never, and I think that this is a really really awesome first step,” Aikat said. 

Still, students said there is no guarantee of a new Asian American Studies major or minor at UNC. 

“We did ask,” Yeh said. “And the general feeling we got from the meeting was that they don’t really have a plan yet because a lot of these types of things move very slowly.” 

Aikat said she believes cluster hires generally include four to six faculty members and that more resources might be necessary before a minor is feasible. 

Krupal Amin, who served as the associate director of the UNC Asian American Center from July 2021 to August 2023, said the center serves to fill some gaps in access to Asian American studies.

According to their petition, SAAS hopes to see the Asian American Center expanded with additional staff and accessibility. 

Amin said she thinks there is more work to be done, but the cluster hire sets a good foundation for that work. She also said she is “really proud” of students for raising their voices. 

“I just want to remind students that if something is important to you, if it’s something that aligns with your value system, if it’s something that you feel like is missing in your education, it’s important to talk about it,” Amin said. 


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