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More schools are offering courses related to Asian Americans


There are more classes at universities on African American and Latino studies than there ever have been, although few schools have been teaching Asian American culture and history. That is slowly changing. From NPR's member station in Nashville, Juliana Kim has the story.

JULIANA KIM, BYLINE: Jack Mok just graduated from Vanderbilt University. He grew up around a lot of Asian Americans back home. Still, he was no stranger to stereotypes, like when kids would poke fun of things made in China.

JACK MOK: I laughed along with the jokes. I even told a couple when I was growing up. But I never really understood the sort of stigma that was associated with that.

KIM: Earlier this school year, Mok took one of the few classes offered on Asian American history at Vanderbilt. And he says the course actually helped debunk his own misconceptions.

MOK: The reasoning that we came up with for Asian American studies at our campuses was that, you know, acts of violence are born out of ignorance.

KIM: For the past two years, Mok and other Vanderbilt students have been pushing for more Asian American faculty and classes in hopes of creating a major. And it's not just Vanderbilt. The field of study began popping up in universities during the 1960s. But today, only 26 schools offer a degree in Asian American studies, including Cornell and Northwestern University. But that's slowly changing.

STELLA LEE: When the hate crimes were first kind of rolling in, I knew a lot of people who weren't Asian who didn't really understand, like, these stereotypes that caused those hate crimes kind of have historically existed.

KIM: That's Stella Lee, a rising senior at Texas A&M University. She says the recent uptick of anti-Asian bigotry and violence across the country has reenergized interest among students for more Asian American classes. Growing up, Lee learned a lot of Texas history, but it rarely included Asian Americans.

LEE: How can you make a history for a whole state but not make a history for a whole demographic group?

KIM: At John Hopkins University (ph) in Baltimore, students are taking it one step further. A rising junior, Kobi Khong, originally wanted a major focusing on Asian Americans, but he saw a larger issue at hand. He and other students have been lobbying for a major that reflects the entire immigrant experience, not just focusing on people from Asia.

KOBI KHONG: I think it stems from just the objectification of the foreigner. You know, they're not Americans. They're FOBs. They're this other.

KIM: Khong and Vanderbilt's Jack Mok belong to a national coalition of Asian American college students working to make campuses more inclusive of their community. Mok says there's a long way to go, but adding more Asian American-related classes is a good first step.

MOK: What I hope for Asian Americans in, you know, a decade is that they feel like they belong from the moment they step on campus.

KIM: He says that's going to take group effort from the administration, faculty and both Asian and non-Asian American students. After all, these courses are for everyone to enjoy.

For NPR News, I'm Juliana Kim in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S "AFTER THOUGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.