Tri-College Launches New Asian American Studies Program

This year, students in the Tri-College Consortium have the opportunity to minor in a new interdisciplinary program: program: Asian American Studies. The minor officially launched in the Fall 2022 semester, but work started in 2017 with support from faculty in the the Black, Latin American and Latino, and Asian Studies departments, and presidents and provosts of all three colleges. 

“For over 5 years, we worked in partnership with student groups across our 3 campuses to create an Asian American Studies program that gives students a vision, a vocabulary, and a history for what it means to be a racialized minority in this country,” said Professor Bakirathi Mani, a Swarthmore English professor, co-director, and founder of the program. 

This Fall, the college offered two courses included in the Asian American Studies program: Asian American Literature taught by Mani and Asian American History, taught by Vivian Truong, assistant professor of history. Truong joined Swarthmore’s history department in the Fall of 2021, and her work centers on community engagement and Asian American social history.

Additional courses included in the program, such as Asian American Psychology, Gender, Intimacy and U.S. Foreign Policy, and Cultural Psychology were also offered during the Fall 2022 semester at Bryn Mawr and Haverford, respectively. 

The new program builds on over two decades of work in Asian American studies and related fields, and a general commitment from the colleges to mentoring Asian American students, according to Mani. 

For Kilin Tang ’25, the program is a unique opportunity to learn about himself and his personal history and culture. Tang is taking Mani’s Asian American Literature course in the Fall 2022 semester and appreciates the various Asian American authors that are included in the curriculum.

“Just taking one course – Asian American Literature – has been pretty enlightening in a lot of ways for understanding myself and where I perceive myself, how I grew up and how that affects my relationship with my family, with my community, with society at large,” Tang said. 

Tang feels the Tri-Co design of the program has encouraged him to explore courses he wouldn’t have typically if he was only taking classes at Swarthmore – such as Asian American Psychology taught at Haverford. 

Students who choose to minor in Asian American studies take six classes over three areas of study – Asian American Studies, Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies, and Transnational and/or Global Connections with Asia – to fulfill the requirement. Tang expressed that the program is particularly essential due to the rising number of anti-Asian hate crimes.  

“Having an Asian American Studies minor is especially important now given recent developments such as the COVID-19 pandemic[,] where we were seeing massive rises in anti-Asian hate. [Also,] following 9/11, we saw dramatic increases in hate crimes against Sikh Americans and people who have darker skin,” Tang said. 

Tang believes that this new minor will give students the chance to learn both Asian American history and what the future might hold. 

“It’s particularly important to understand how we got here, and where to move forward from here. I think Asian American Studies does a really good job of trying to understand and navigate those complex boundaries,” he said.

Mani hopes to see the program expanded to other liberal arts colleges as a structure. She especially emphasized how its collaborative nature helps bring together multiple schools and departments. She also believes there will be improvements with its implementation, such as increased alumni support and a potential Asian American studies major.

“This is truly a program that begins from the ground up — a student and faculty-led partnership that provides a unique collaborative structure for what Asian American Studies at a liberal arts college can look like,” Mani said.

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