Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 9, 2022

Students and faculty advocate for implementation of Critical Diaspora Studies program

By SHIRLENE JOHN | April 29, 2022

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COURTESY OF NATALIE WANG

Both students and faculty members discussed the importance of a Critical Diaspora Studies program.   

The Critical Diaspora Studies (CDS) initiative was created to diversify the undergraduate student experience at Hopkins through the creation of a new interdisciplinary academic space. The initiative hopes that it will connect existing centers of study at the University to build a major and minor. Students majoring in CDS would have the opportunity to focus in specific areas of study, such as Asian-American and Pacific Islander Studies, Indigenous Studies or Latinx/Latiné  Studies.

The CDS initiative and Critical Responses to Anti-Asian Violence (CRAAV) hosted a roundtable to discuss the importance of the creation of a CDS major and minor on April 21. The conversation was moderated by sophomore Kobi Khong, a member of the working group for the CDS initiative.

The roundtable hosted Joyce Wang and Natalie Wang of the CDS working group, graduate student Sheharyar Imran, Associate Research Professor in the Center for Africana Studies Stuart Schrader, Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Program in Latin American Studies Dr. Christy Thornton, and CRAAV’s co-founder Yumi Kim. 

In an email to The News-Letter, sophomore Natalie Wang detailed the CDS working group’s mission statement. 

“Our primary aim is to coalesce these academic offerings under the central theme of diaspora with the aim of establishing inclusive and representative areas of study centered not around static geographical location, but rather, broader themes of migration and displacement in the context of white supremacy and colonialism,” she wrote. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Khong detailed how the initiative for a CDS program emerged from the aftermath of the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings that lead to the deaths of eight people, including six Asian women. 

Khong explained how the Inter-Asian Council (IAC) had created an intercollegiate Asian Pacific Islander Desi American group in the aftermath of the Atlanta shootings. 

“We were talking about how Vanderbilt had recently started their own Asian American Studies Initiative. We saw that and we're like, ‘Why don't we have that at our school?,’” he said. “In thinking about the class of 2024, we were majority Asian. Why aren't our classes representative of who we are?”

Khong said IAC came across Natalie Wang and CRAAV’s work to create an ethnic studies curriculum that looks into Asian American perspectives. 

Natalie Wang stated that when the groups collaborated together, they realized that they could use this momentum to push for broader change. 

“If you're gonna try to push for a new Asian American Studies major, we might as well dream super big and push for a more broad way to ask about questions surrounding racism in the United States,” she said.  

Senior Joyce Wang discussed how her own experience of the lack of resources and spaces to discuss diasporic thinking forced her to process her learning independently in an interview with The News-Letter

She spoke on how mentally taxing the burden of learning is, and she believes that creating a CDS major will allow for spaces for those conversations within an academic institution. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Kevin Zhang discussed how difficult it was to find any Asian American courses within the University itself. 

“I found an Asian American course my junior year — that really was what I was looking for. The problem is that those courses show up by luck,” he said. “Essentially, you'll find them accidentally because Asian American is not something that will fall under any of the branches in the [University]. There doesn't exist a way to talk about it.” 

In conversation with each other and the audience, the roundtable discussed the impacts of creating a CDS program, its distinction in contrast to a program in ethnic studies, and the next steps the initiative plans to take.

During the event, Natalie Wang emphasized the importance of making sure the CDS program was accessible and community oriented. 

“There were a lot of discussions about how we can address the real world applicability of the things that we learn in humanities classrooms — moving away from ivory tower academics and towards community engagement and empowerment,” she said. 

Kim spoke on the importance of the foundation that the Black Lives Matter movement has created in building a foundation on thinking about anti-racist work. 

“By bringing together Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian American sorts of tracks and creating and sort of putting them under the umbrella of diasporic studies, you can trace their histories and formations together, and have a really genuine and rigorous critique of white supremacy,” she said. 

She also highlighted on how important it was for students to be spearheading this initiative, as it allowed for faculty members and staff to build on the dialogue and petition the administration to support their efforts. 

Thornton spoke on her hope that the initiative will revitalize different ethnic studies programs, including the Program in Latin American Studies. 

“We have people doing important work that allows us to link our kind of hemispheric interests to Latino issues and the issues of people who emigrate to the United States,” she said. “We hope that the new program in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies will give us the kind of intellectual and curricular focus that we want in the context of the critical Diaspora Studies, something that is woefully missing here in the Latin American Studies department.”

Imran added that he hoped this initiative would also push the University into thinking about its role within the Baltimore community and on a global scale and have classes that represent the demography and the wants of its students. 

“We should be thinking about our place within the United States, thinking critically about what kinds of positions that we occupy, and what positions institutions such as Hopkins occupy, and what their responsibility and commitments to those rights are,” he said. 

In the coming weeks, members of the initiative hope to meet with people and collect signatures from alumni, faculty, staff and students in order to present a united force to the administration. 

In an email to The News-Letter, junior Garryn Bryant was excited to see people talking about the initiative and found it encouraging to see both students and faculty working together. 

“As a student who is an underrepresented minority at Hopkins coming from a culture that has been significantly impacted by forced diaspora, I genuinely hope that the university listens,” she wrote. “There needs to be more effort towards educating people and researching this topic in addition to improving overall faculty and student representation at Hopkins.”

Joyce Wang emphasized the need for the University to take an active role in the initiative.

“Much of activist diasporic thinking is something I have learned through organizations and peer groups, but it shouldn't be our responsibility,” she said. “Especially when you're at an academic institution — the institution should be stepping up to help us learn about that.”

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