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Student-run Asian American studies course will be offered in the fall

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Earlier this semester, Swarthmore Asian Organization announced that the college will be offering the student-run course “Introduction to Asian American Studies” in the education studies department. The course will cover topics such as the history of Asian American immigration, present-day intermarriage, and the existence of the model minority stereotype.

According to Friends Historical Library archives and S.A.O.’s personal archives, this is not the first time S.A.O. has advocated to the administration for an Asian American Studies program.

Yi Wei ’21, political chair of S.A.O., says that the administration has met S.A.O.’s past demands for an Asian American studies program with questions about interest in the program as well as ideas about promoting the integration of Asian American culture or history into pre-existing courses.

“The administration has consistently told us to integrate Asian American history into classes that already exist or that there was not enough interest for the major,” Wei said.

In order to gauge interest for the course and the program, SAO held a panel in November on “Asian American Curriculum” that featured professors from both UPenn and Haverford. According to Wei, nearly 80 people attended, exhibiting to the administration that there was interest and demand for the course.

“The panel was to show to administration that interest does exist,” Wei said. “We know that there’s interest, and we’ve created this course because the administration has been unable to do that for us.”

Wei also attributes the existence of the course to the efforts made faculty members in support of the implementation of Asian American studies courses.

“We had enough faculty backing to get the course off the ground. We weren’t sure whether this would be an independent project, and it evolved into a student-run course,” Wei said. “I know that a lot of faculty in the education studies department have been very supportive of these initiatives for Asian American studies.”

In order to have a student-run course, a faculty adviser for the course is required. Roseann Liu, a professor in the education studies department, serves as the faculty adviser Asian American studies course.

“I was surprised because there were such strong efforts made by students over so many years, which students thankfully have chronicled and archived,” Liu wrote in an e-mail to The Phoenix. “When I initially sat down to talk with students about this, there was a real sense of exhaustion from all their efforts.”

At Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, there has also been pressure from faculty to set up an Asian American studies department. The Tri-College Mellon Grant, which is awarded to faculty for projects related to research, teaching, program initiatives, and curriculum at Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore, was given to three professors interested in further developing the Asian American studies program.

“It’s important to note that there are efforts underway across the Tri-Co that gives me reason to hope [for a future Asian American Studies major]. On the faculty end, Shu-wen Wang from Haverford, Heejung Park from Bryn Mawr, and Bakirathi Mani from Swarthmore were awarded Tri-Co Mellon funding this past year,” Liu wrote in the e-mail. “Among other things, they used that funding to cull together Asian American course offerings from across the Tri-Co and met with students to hear their needs.”

Courses with a specific focus on Asian American Studies in the Tri-Co include “Asian American Psychology” at Bryn Mawr and Haverford and “South Asians in America,” “Asian American Literature,” “In/Visible: Asian American Cultural Critique,” and “Taiko and the Asian American Experience” at Swarthmore.

The initial conception of the class began last semester with members of the S.A.O. However, students took concrete steps this semester in order to establish the class.

According to S.A.O. Co-President Alex Jin ’19, S.A.O. is divided into point teams that are each assigned a specific project or task. S.A.O. established a point team for the creation of an Asian American studies course.

“The way S.A.O. works is we have point teams for different tasks,” Jin said. “We have a S.A.O. board with eight to ten people. On each project we’ll have someone from the board in charge of each specific project, and I chose to adopt the Asian American Studies point team.”

Liu contacted students on the point team after discovering that students were interested in creating a course.

“I actually reached out to students because I heard they were trying to get an Asian American studies program going and thought that a student-run course would be a great way to build on the momentum generated by SAO and other Pan-Asian student groups throughout the Tri-Co,” Liu wrote.

Liu notes that a course or program for students is important because it allows them to address issues not acknowledged in other courses.

“In courses that I teach, especially the first-year seminars, I notice a disproportionately high number of students of Asian descent,” Liu said in the email. “These students often lack the language and frameworks to talk about their experiences because of how race in America functions within a black-white binary.”

While Liu dealt with the administrative side of approving the course, the students on the point team worked on devising a syllabus for the course.

“Professor Liu helped in doing a lot of the administrative work and was really helpful to have on our side during the process,” Jin said. “All of us on the point team were crafting the syllabus and arranging readings and discussing … Everyone on the point team had different interests, so we each had our own themes and then arranged the syllabus based on thematic order.”

While Swarthmore does offer an interdisciplinary Asian Studies program, an Asian American Studies program places emphasis on the history and role of Asians in America.

The published course description states that “the course will examine the study of Asian America through the themes of education, immigration, food, class relations, gender and sexuality, intersectionality, cultural psychology, media, popular culture, and community activism.” The course will be credit/no credit and will be held on Tuesdays, from 1:15 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

“We have about nine or 10 people enrolled right now. What we’ve done is have a mandatory 10-minute break where we allow people who are interested in the course can come for half of it,” Jin said. “You wouldn’t get credit for it, but it’s just an opportunity for people to be a part of the conversation.”

While gaining institutional recognition and support is important for Asian American studies, Liu views the establishment of an Asian American studies program as a way to institute both an understanding of oppression and a way to seek liberation for people of color.

“I think establishing an Asian American studies program and getting institutional support would be a huge victory for all the students and faculty that have fought hard over these years,” Liu said in the email. “But the goal of those who started ethnic studies in the 1960s was not just institutional recognition; ethnic studies was a vehicle for the ultimate goal of liberating oppressed people and we should think of our work in a similar vein.”

Both Black Studies and Latin American and Latino studies remain interdisciplinary majors. According to a 1972 issue of The Phoenix, the student council endorsed a Black Studies major after a proposal for the program by the Swarthmore African American Association, while another issue from 2003 detailed many students’ interest in implementing a major.

Liu believes that the obstacles facing S.A.O. exist for all groups attempting to establish ethnic studies programs.

“Ethnic studies, more generally, is historically underfunded and is often regarded as a niche field in academia,” Liu wrote. “If we see ethnic studies as a way of understanding how people have been classified and organized as part of empire-building processes, then it does what many other disciplines do, which is to illuminate something about society and the human condition.”

While the future of an Asian American studies major or program remains uncertain at Swarthmore, this course may become a catalyst for the creation of more courses about Asian American studies.

SAO refocuses toward more political role

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The Swarthmore Asian Organization is shifting to become a political group. This change, which comes after decision made by SAO leadership in the 2015-2016 school year, was marked by a “re-birthday party.” The event was both a 30th birthday for the group as well as an opportunity to refocus their organization.

SAO was formed originally as a political group to advance the interests of Asian and Pacific-Islander students, faculty, and staff, but shifted over time into its current form. In recent years, the group has served as a social and cultural group. Part of SAO’s shift is to change the perception of who SAO is for, as the group’s membership mostly consists of students of East-Asian descent, according to SAO co-presidents Josie Huang ’19, David Chan ’19, and Shuang Guan ’19. Guan explained some of the reasons for the shift.

“The way SAO started, its mission was political in order to increase numbers of API students and faculty on campus. … SAO was really a home for a diverse number of people falling under this label of Asian or Asian-American, and we’ve found that, in the past few years, SAO has been kind of shifting towards a social [and] cultural kind of path and our member base has also gotten very East-Asian-American. And, that’s led to some people telling us that they feel a little bit excluded from SAO or they don’t feel comfortable coming to SAO events because they don’t see a lot of people who look like them or represent them,” she said.

SAO hopes that the political shift will make SAO more welcoming to a wider group of Asian and Asian-American students.

“Instead of SAO being tied together by this social-cliquey feeling of ‘oh my friends are here so I belong here’ … hopefully it’s that people are passionate about working on API issues,” Shuang said.

Shuang also described the group’s political plans.

“We want to do more collaborations with other affinity groups to build community at Swarthmore. We also hope to volunteer with Philly organizations (currently in talks with AAI, Asian Arts Initiative). We are trying to increase awareness and support for Asian-American Studies at Swat by bringing Asian American Studies scholars to talk at Swat while advocating for more Asian-American Studies courses,” she said.

“We’re really hoping that one, we take up SAO’s political mission again, and really do political work, talking about API issues, possibly working with organizations in Philly who already do work in arts and community empowerment and education and also doing more collaborations with other groups on campus,” she said.

The “re-birthday party” was intended to help SAO start becoming a political organization, and was well received event. According to SAO leadership, some of the attendees were not regularly attending SAO members. This suggests that students see SAO less as an organization for students of East-Asian descent and more as one that represents students from many API backgrounds.

The co-presidents also met with the leadership of other groups representing Asian-Americans on Swarthmore’s campus in order to best serve the interests of Asian-American and Asian students across their different organizations.

“There’s a bunch of other Asian-affiliated groups, and what we’ve realized in having conversations is that the nature of these groups tends to be more cultural, so it’s kind of like us deciding to not overstep the things that they’re doing and to kind of fill in for the spaces that they don’t have … having SAO is sort of a space for us to have these [political] conversations outside of the cultural groups,” Huang said.

The reactions to SAO’s political shift have been generally positive, according to the co-presidents, and they are optimistic about the future.

“We had a SAO-rebirthday, which was when we announced the change, and it was also a celebration of SAO’s 30th anniversary. We had a lot of people come to this, except …. we’ve realized that, because of the nature of how SAO is right now, it’s going to take a lot to change [the perception that SAO is primarily an East-Asian group]. The people that came to the event, some of them were people that we haven’t really seen before at past SAO events, but a lot of them were also still primarily still East-Asian, and so what we realized after this event is that it is a little bit difficult, that it is going to be a work in progress. This change is mainly to open up SAO again to the rest of the community. We did get a lot of positive reception from people who were at the event, who expressed that this is something that they had been looking for,” Huang said.

SAO included other Asian-affiliated groups to discuss the shift and get feedback.

“We gathered the board members … of other Asian-affiliated groups in the IC to talk about our idea to shift from being a social cultural group to mainly be a political group and get their feedback.

Aamia Malik ’18, the president of Deshi, a group for South Asian students on campus, expressed that she thinks the change will be positive for other Asian-affiliated groups on campus.

“The biggest shift will be SAO acting as more of an umbrella organization for other groups instead of its own entity as it is acting currently. In my opinion, this is a good shift because it will create a space for more IC groups to communicate and collaborate, something that needs to happen more,” she said
The implications of SAO’s changes are likely to be more pronounced next year when the incoming Class of 2021 enters and interacts with Swarthmore’s cultural, social, and political organizations for the first time.

SBC Updates Reimbursement Policies to Increase Efficiency

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In order to allow for greater efficiency and confidence in the school’s budgetary processes for clubs, the Student Budget Committee has recently updated their funding system, which includes providing reimbursements through direct deposits. While these changes were intended to make the funding process more accessible, several students noted that the impact has not been as beneficial as they had originally anticipated.

In order to help understand the improvements that have taken place, Chair of the SBC Jigme Tobgyel ’17 first explained the process of how organizations on campus receive funding.

For groups that have become chartered through the processes outlined by the Student Government Organization and the Student Organizations Committee, applying for funding is relatively simple. Organizations seeking reimbursements must attend Spring Budgeting during the Spring semester to plan the necessary budget for the following year, by using subcodes to denote how money will be allocated to different categories, such as transportation or registration fees. After a club proposes their budget, the SBC votes on it, choosing either “yes,” “no,” or “abstain.” Once the proposal receives approval, the club receives their full year budget and becomes eligible for Spring Budgeting for the next year.

If unexpected costs arise, the club can attend supplementary meetings, which occur every Sunday at 5:00 p.m. in Sharples Room 4, to propose new allocations.

No significant changes have been made to the general process of receiving annual funding. The integration of the SBC into the Business Office to change the process of funding reimbursements is the biggest modification to the 2016-2017 school year.

Tobgyel called the previous year’s system of providing reimbursements “inconvenient” and “time consuming.”

“So now, if you’ve made a purchase for a club, you’re getting it directly deposited into your bank account, as you are with payroll,” said Tobgyel. “With distributing checks, signing them, and mailing them, it was just a longer and more tedious process.”

As the Chair of the SBC, Tobgyel needs to handle a great deal of paperwork, including materials dealing with cash advances, funding, or reimbursements. The new developments of the SBC should help make the jobs of Tobgyel and other committee members function with a bit more ease.

Despite the intended goals of the SBC’s new system, many students who currently serve as treasurers of different chartered clubs on campus noted that they have not seen a significant improvement in efficiency.

Shuang Guan ’19, the treasurer of the Swarthmore Asian Organization, acknowledged that the SBC’s system can be unclear at times.

“Last time I went to the SBC Office, I was told treasurers can no longer get detailed printouts of their current budget. We can see how much we’ve used and how much we have left total, but that total isn’t broken down into the subcodes in which we applied for during spring budgeting,” said Guan.

Aside from the difficulty of keeping track of how much money is available for different purposes, several students also noted that the stringent budget can sometimes act as a hindrance to an organization’s goals.

“Last year, SBC said it would no longer fund events that were for member bonding, which includes Big Sib Lil Sib events. I think that BSLS Is an important part of SAO that really helps freshmen adjust to Swarthmore, and since it wouldn’t be accessible for everyone to pay out of pocket, it’s unfortunate that we’ve had to cancel somehttp://swarthmorephoenix.com/wp-admin/post-new.php BSLS traditions,” said Guan.

Tobgyel responded to this by saying that, while the SBC does still fund member bonding events, there are more restrictions on the budget as the number of clubs continues to grow.
While the SBC is consistently working to meet the changing needs of different groups on campus, some find that these changes are not as beneficial as hoped.

Jenny Yang ’00 brings humorous, passionate story to campus

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Upon entering last Friday’s stand-up performance by Jenny Yang ’00 — late, I might add — and finding her personifying her bare stomach, I couldn’t help but be taken aback, and immediately excited, for the next hour. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that the Los Angeles-based actress and comedian’s work has been featured on a variety of media outlets.

Yang performed at Swarthmore as a sponsored guest of the Swarthmore Asian Organization. Her talk was focused on storytelling, and its potency in self-discovery, as well as its utility in leading and interacting with the world. Yang filled “Storytelling For Social Action” with interesting anecdotes from her time at Swarthmore, touching personal stories, and hilarious displays of her comedic talent and public speaking skills. It was clear that Yang has had a tremendous amount of professional comedy experience, but she says her training began more informally in her hometown of Torrance, Calif.

“I was always kind of obnoxious. Since I was a good student and kind of extroverted I could get away with talking back to the teacher and being funny … comedy-wise I was always performing,” Yang said.

It wasn’t until Yang matriculated to Swarthmore, however, that she integrated performance with her passion for social justice and reform. An active voice for SAO in her own right, Yang was a very political student during her time on campus.

“People used to not want to talk to me because they were afraid they were going to say something wrong,” said Yang. She discovered the importance of storytelling by combining her activism with her love of the arts.

“When I came to Swat I performed a lot of poetry with other students because that’s when I realized that you don’t just write this in your own little book, you can actually say it out loud and share it. That was an essential part of my experience here at Swarthmore,” she said.

Despite her comedic talents, Yang followed a different path after graduation. She briefly worked at a non-profit in New York City before moving back to Los Angeles to be close to her family. There, she pursued a master’s in urban planning at UCLA and worked at Service Employees International Union as a labor union activist. While Yang was working in politics, she felt there was something missing in what she called her “yuppie” lifestyle.

“I was working in the labor movement. It was great, but I didn’t feel like I had the creative expression that I wanted,” she said. “I wasn’t able to talk about the issues like I wanted to … what I’m able to do now is a kind of legacy of what I used to do [at Swarthmore], when I was very active on campus in trying to create a fuss,”.

“Creating a fuss,” for Yang, involves a variety of things. She has appeared in multiple Buzzfeed videos (her hit segment “If Asians Said the Stuff White People Say” has 8 million views), been featured on NBC, BBC, and NPR, assisted on the set of Key and Peele and, to top it all off, founded the first ever, mostly female, Asian-American comedy group Dis/orient/ed Comedy. The overriding theme in her disparate ventures, however, is a focus on introspection and storytelling.

Yang emphasized the importance of storytelling for both interpersonal connection and leadership development.

“In the real world I know your intellect is going to get you very far but … honestly what’s going to end up mattering is also the soft skills — your people skills, your ability to move people, your ability to persuade people, to enlist them into your cause,” she said. Storytelling, Yang believes, requires great self-knowledge.

“People respond to people who know themselves, who are authentic, who can communicate their emotions and who they are, that’s how we connect,” she said. “For you as a Swat student who cares about the world, being able to persuade people by telling your story and how you’re connected with others is essential.”

While there is an understandable excitement about Yang as an actor in the entertainment world, she wants to continue on her current path. That means doing more of what she does now — meeting people, hoing workshops, doing stand-up, and hopefully visiting her alma mater at every chance she gets.

First Friday Celebration to kick off Spring Arts Month

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no better way to celebrate the advent of spring than with art and food. Tomorrow, the Student Activities Office will bring to us the inaugural First Friday Celebration to kick off Swarthmore’s Spring Arts Celebration.

First Friday Events aren’t uncommon in many US cities. Philadelphia’s First Friday is one of Philly’s most vital and signature events, with streets filled with art lovers and foodies. When talking about why the Student Activities Office (SAO) decided to organize such an event at Swarthmore, Mike Elias, the student activities coordinator, said,  “A lot of communities host First Fridays during the spring and summer months and they serve as a time for folks to enjoy their town, take-in the warm weather, check-out some art.”

“The purpose of First Friday is to kick-off the Spring Arts Celebration with an awesome showcase of some of our amazing art based student groups we have on-campus”, Elias added. Unlike in previous years, this year’s Spring Arts Celebration has expanded to one month long, and the First Friday Celebration can give the community a glimpse of some of the great performances that will be occurring on-campus throughout the month of April, such as Tamagawa Taiko Drumming and Toni Morrison Lecture and Reading.

There will be four groups of performers in the Friday event: Our Art Spoken in Soul (OASIS), Terpsichore, Mariachi Band, and Verti-Go-Go. All four groups applied in early February and were formally accepted to perform in the event. OASIS is the spoken word poetry group on campus. Terpsichore is a student-run dance group. Verti-Go-Go is a student group that improvises comedy.

Since it is the first time SAO has organized such an event, the difficulty lies in integrating the different parts of the event. “We had to put a lot of thought into how we could organize the event so guests can utilize the food trucks, watch student performances, and make their way into Beardsley,” explained Elias. In Friday, all art studios will be open for visits and artwork by students will also be displayed there.

 Junior and senior workshops will also be open on that day, allowing visitors to take a look at art majors’ end of year projects. In addition to the art work display, visitors will also be able to see videos presenting the work by art history students and talk about art with professors and art history students who will be there explaining their projects.

Similar to other First Friday events, Swarthmore’s celebration will feature several food options. The famed food trucks will be out on the Science Center quad in the afternoon. Hobbs will also be hosting its second annual Hot Dog Jamboree. Delicious food, talented performers, and access to the work-in-progress of Swarthmore’s most gifted artists are sure to make for an exciting event.


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