Asian/Pacific/American Studies major lacks adequate representation, students and faculty say

Students and faculty members have called on the university to allocate more resources for Pacific Islander and Indigenous students and include more courses that focus on Pacific Islander cultures.


Natalia Palacino

The course offerings under Asian/Pacific/American Studies major lacks breadth and depth as students and faculties reflect. (Illustration by Natalia Palacino Camargo)

Nicole Lu, Senior Staff Writer

Students and faculty in NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Studies major — one of the six concentrations offered by the university’s department of social and cultural analysis — have criticized the program for having inadequate resources to support Pacific Islander students.  Several students cite a lack of courses in the major that focus on the history and culture of Pacific Islanders. 

The program’s introductory core class, “Cultures & Contexts: Asian/Pacific/American Culture,covers the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the history of U.S. imperialism in the state. The class has come under criticism for not discussing any other Pacific Islands or exploring additional aspects of Pacific Islander history. The department also only offers two non-language courses about APA history this semester, named “History & Literatures of The South Asian Diaspora” and “Asian American Literature.” 

Elizabeth Ouyang, a Social and Cultural Analysis professor, currently teaches a course titled “Constitution and People of Color,” which explores the impacts of the discrimination of marginalized racial communities due to COVID-19. Although the course fosters discussions about topics ranging from hate crimes to equitable allotment of resources, Ouyang said the amount of course material does not allow room for a proper analysis of the history of these communities.

“Even with just the material that I have to cover, it is not giving justice to even African, Latino, and Asian American communities — let alone Indigenous and Pacific Islander communities,” Ouyang said. “We touch upon, very tangentially, the experience of American Indians in the United States, but not nearly the justice it requires.” 

The recent departures of professors Dean Saranillio and Elizabeth Ellis — both of whom were responsible for creating the Native Studies Forum — have heightened these issues, according to Ouyang. The forum, which was launched in 2006, is an advisory committee comprised of students, faculty and organization representatives that has planned, hosted and co-sponsored events. The forum also advocates for the addition of Pacific Islander and Indigenous courses to the major.

Linda Luu, a Ph.D. student in American Studies, said that NYU can support Pacific Islander students by allocating additional resources to academic programs and providing spaces for students to gather on campus. They cited an “institutional failure” that they have witnessed at the university — a lack of resources for Indigenous students. She added that the Native Studies Forum has sought to address these issues through its work.

“Why is there no major or program in Native American and Indigenous Studies?” Luu said. “Why is there no space on campus for Native American and Indigenous students, including Pacific Islanders, to gather?”

The Asian/Pacific/American Institute was created in response to student interest and is separate from the major. The A/P/A Institute is available to faculty, students and residents of New York City, and serves as a research and programming center. Crystal Parikh, the director of the A/P/A Institute, said that the program aims to showcase the experiences of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander history. 

The A/P/A Institute has worked with the Native Studies Forum and local Native Hawaiian and Pacific organizations, including the Nā ʻŌiwi NYC. Many of its programs focus on the experiences and histories of students, artists, community members and APA scholars, according to Parikh, who has also worked closely with the Native Studies Forum.

Luu said the university needs to address student and faculty concerns by hiring more professors who are equipped to teach and mentor Pacific Islander students. However, they emphasized the importance of taking student input into account when trying to improve access to resources.

“Pacific Islander scholars and students might envision a different formation — for instance a native studies department or a Pacific Islander studies department — and that is something we and NYU higher administration should listen to and support,” Luu said.

Contact Nicole Lu at [email protected].

Correction, Oct. 13: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Asian/Pacific/American Institute was a part of the Department of Social & Cultural Analysis. WSN regrets the error.