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October teach-in to highlight the stories and voices of Emory’s AAPI community
Environmental of Catherine Ceniza Choy

Attendees at the AAPI Teach-In on Emory’s Atlanta campus Oct. 13 will learn how to better understand the past and present challenges that AAPI populations face from Catherine Ceniza Choy, an author, historian and professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Teach-in, which will take place on the Atlanta and Oxford campuses Oct. 12 and 13, welcomes attendance by the entire Emory community.

These are more than polite words. Its sponsors — the offices of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Faculty Affairs — see the goals of the two days as focused on the AAPI community but achievable only through a One Emory commitment.

In the words of Chris Suh, assistant professor of history in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, “The teach-in is an opportunity for the Emory community to collectively learn — from the keynote speaker, Catherine Ceniza Choy, as well as from Emory students, staff and faculty who have dedicated themselves to AAPI issues on campus — how to better understand the past and present challenges that AAPI populations face at the national, local and institutional levels.”

The rise of anti-Asian violence is one such challenge. Tragically, it has happened across the country and in Atlanta’s own midst with the spa shootings of 2021, which killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. Another challenge is understanding the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, handed down on June 29, 2023.

“The AAPI community is such a beautifully complex and diverse one, both ethnically and geographically,” says Carol Henderson, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer and adviser to the president.

“As part of our Inclusion Project Initiative,” she continues, “we readily partnered with the Office of Faculty Affairs to elevate that diversity and engage in conversations around what it means to be inclusive when the national and local dialogue around the experiences of students, faculty and staff of Asian heritage collapses those unique experiences into a single one. With the phenomenal commitment demonstrated by our planning committee, we will — true to Emory’s mission ‘to create, preserve, teach and apply knowledge in service to humanity’ — use this teach-in to know our AAPI community better and translate their needs into institutional action.”

As vice provost for faculty affairs, Pearl Dowe recognizes that “faculty not only bring their scholarship and teaching acumen to Emory, they also bring life experiences that should be acknowledged and respected. The teach-in provides an opportunity to hear the voices of AAPI members to ensure that we develop practices and provide spaces that work to mitigate challenges while allowing for AAPI members to be within community throughout the university.”

Why a teach-in?

This will mark the second teach-in at Emory in the past year. In October 2022, members of the Muscogee Nation educated the Atlanta campus about their way of life and traditions, which included hymn singing, a cultural lab, stories and stomp dancing.

Asked why a teach-in was the right platform for the AAPI community, Oxford College biology professor Nitya Jacob, who was raised in Ahmednagar, India, indicated: “Emory has staged cultural events such as Diwali and Lunar New Year to celebrate the Asian community, but we intend to go deeper on the issues. Implicit in the concept of a ‘teach-in’ is that you are not just going to a talk to listen. You must be willing to engage in the next steps.”

On a personal note, Jacob observes: “I look forward to this as a chance to find supportive community that goes beyond my academic interests.”

Suh notes that because AAPI studies are rarely included in the K-12 curriculum, most Americans lack knowledge about the AAPI community. As a result, personal experience and popular media fill that vacuum.

“Both sources,” says Suh, “are important but without a trained expert to guide them, most Americans are left without the tools to critically examine, analyze and interpret the group experiences and dynamics that they encounter, whether as news stories or data sets produced by government agencies.”

What’s in store

The activities over the two days will highlight the stories and voices of the AAPI community; the diversity and commonality of experience among those who identify as AAPI; as well as the overlap of challenges with those who identify as African American, Latinx and Indigenous or are international students.

Keynote speaker Choy, a historian and professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of the award-winning “Asian American Histories of the United States” (2022), which focuses on themes of violence, erasure and resistance in the nearly 200-year history of Asian migration, labor and community formation in the U.S.

As Choy writes in her preface, “If we do not confront anti-Asian violence, it will continue. As James Baldwin instructs us: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ Thus, what is at stake in foregrounding the history of anti-Asian violence in the United States is not solely the accuracy of U.S. history, but also the well-being of an American future.”

As Choy will make clear, the designation “AAPI” is a broad tent, describing a diverse and fast-growing population of 23 million Americans that includes roughly 50 ethnic groups with roots in more than 40 countries.

Closer to home, Asians who call metro Atlanta home account for 5.3% of the region’s dwellers, and the number of residents in the 10-county region has more than doubled in the past two decades.

At Emory, from fall 2012 to fall 2022, the proportion of Asian students increased from 16.6% to 18.4%. The total number of Asian students, both undergraduate and graduate, increased by 23.8% during this time. Concurrently, the percentage of Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students held steady at .05% while the total number of Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students increased by 14.3%.

Among the students who will participate in the teach-in is Chloe Chen 25BBA, co-president of the Asian Student Organization (ASO), who notes that “one of the most meaningful parts of taking classes with Drs. Suh and Kanesaka was hearing personal stories from my peers. Seeing how the histories and challenges faced by AAPI populations are still present today builds a sense of empathy and responsibility for each other. That’s what the ASO works to do and what I hope the teach-in can give to the AAPI community at Emory — that we are not alone in our experiences.”

7-8:30 p.m., Phi Gamma Hall
  • Opening remarks by Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda and Oxford Dean Badia Ahad
  • Jing Paul, associate professor of Chinese at Agnes Scott College, will lead the panel discussion “The Power of Storytelling and Listening to Learn” with Nitya Jacob, professor of biology and chair of Natural Science and Mathematics; John Kim 24Ox, president of the Asian Culture Club; Amanda Noh 24Ox, president of Oxford’s Korean American Student Association; and Payton Chin 19Ox 21C, planning analyst at Norfolk Southern.
  • Registration is required for in-person and virtual attendance.
11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Convocation Hall

11 a.m.: Remarks by President Gregory L. Fenves and keynote address by Catherine Ceniza Choy, Convocation Hall 208; registration is required for in-person and virtual attendance.

12:15 p.m.: Lunch, Convocation Hall 210

12:15 p.m.: Book signing with Professor Choy, Convocation Hall 203

1:15 p.m.: Performance by AHANA a cappella student group, Convocation Hall 208

1:45 p.m.: “The AAPI Experience at Emory University,” led by Professor Suh, featuring Franchesca Amor Aguilar 24MPH, co-president of the Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi Association; Chloe Chen 25BBA, co-president of the Asian Student Organization; Erica Kenesaka, assistant professor of English; Sameena Mulla, associate professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Daiana Takashima 26M, co-president of the Emory chapter of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association; and Jane Yang 98C, former associate director of outreach and consultation services at Emory Counseling and Psychological Services. Convocation Hall 210; registration is required for in-person attendance.

Growing faculty strengths in Asian American studies

Suh, who arrived in 2019, and Erica Kanesaka, assistant professor of English in Emory College, who started in 2022, already have built a popular and impressive Asian American studies curriculum.

“When I arrived at Emory in fall 2019,” says Suh, “there didn’t yet exist a documented history of Asian American students at Emory. To address this important gap, I created a collaborative final project for my Asian American history classes to recover the history of Emory’s responses to anti-Asian violence and Asian American students’ activism.”

That work resulted in a Feb. 6, 2021, article in the Wheel, “The Legacy of Asian American Activism at Emory.”

As a historian, Suh specializes in how ideas about race shape U.S. foreign and domestic policies, and how the lives of Asian Americans and people in Asia are shaped by these policies. He is the author of “The Allure of Empire: American Encounters with Asians in the Age of Transpacific Expansion and Exclusion” (2023); historian Eiichiro Azuma at the University of Pennsylvania calls Suh’s book “transimperial scholarship at its best.”

A literary scholar and a specialist in cultural studies, Kanesaka focuses on Asian American racial and sexual politics in popular culture. She is also one of a handful of experts in the emerging field of cute studies, which unites cultural studies, biology and neuroscience to examine cuteness beyond aesthetics.

Kanesaka is currently pursuing two book projects. One examines children’s literature and culture to analyze feelings about race, sex and gender between Japan and the United States from the late 19th century to the present, while the other will reflect on the resonances of kawaii and cuteness for Asian American feminist politics.

Other leading scholars of Asian American studies include Helen Jin Kim, associate professor of American religious history at Candler School of Theology, who studies U.S. religion and history in global context, focusing on U.S. religious connections to Asia-Pacific and transnational histories of Asian American religions.

In the health sciences, Amy Y. Chen, Willard and Lillian Hackerman Professor of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, and Michael H. Chung, professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine and the Department of Global Health in the Rollins School of Public Health, co-chair the AAPI Medical Faculty Association Affinity Group and have worked tirelessly to provide mentorship and support to medical students, residents, fellows and faculty of AAPI descent at Emory. 

“The next step, I hope, will be hiring more faculty and staff members with training in AAPI studies and/or extensive experience working with AAPI students,” says Suh. “For example, there is no faculty member specializing in Pacific Islander studies. There is also no faculty member primarily trained to be an expert on the South Asian or Southeast Asian experiences in the United States. Hiring experts in these fields who can complement existing faculty members’ expertise will enhance Emory’s understanding of AAPI issues.”

Education as a prelude to action

“I have no doubt that we will generate conversations in this teach-in that matter to the AAPI community and will act as signposts for where we go from here,” says Jacob. “This event will be a great starting point — a sign that Emory wants to be a space where we all can thrive.”

Amy Y. Chen (School of Medicine)

Michael H. Chung (School of Medicine and Rollins School of Public Health)

Pearl Dowe (Office of the Provost)

Natalie Fields (School of Medicine)

Carol Flowers St. John (Office of the Provost)

Gary Glass (Oxford College, Counseling and Career Services)

Carol E. Henderson (Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion)

Sheryl Heron (Injury Prevention Research Center)

Nicole Ingram (Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion)

Nitya P. Jacob (Oxford College)

Amanda James (Laney Graduate School)

Erica Kanesaka (Emory College)

Wade Manora Jr. (Oxford College, Office of Student Diversity Equity, and Inclusion)

Rebecca Nurse (Office of the Provost)

Jyothi Rengarajan (School of Medicine)

Chris Suh (Emory College)

Mylin A. Torres (Winship Cancer Institute)

Jane Yang 98C (formerly Emory College Counseling and Psychological Services)

Joanne Williams 18MPH (Rollins School of Public Health)

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