“The academic field of Asian-American studies represents a significant and rich area of ongoing scholarship, offering important historical, cross-cultural, and creative context to the tapestry that interweaves American history, culture, and public policy,” said a petition organized by the Asian-American Alumni Association of Princeton (A4P) in support of the proposal.

The petition, which had received more than 675 signatures by the end of December, noted that many of Princeton’s peer universities offer Asian-American studies. “We recognize that this is an area in which Princeton has some catch-up to do,” said April Chou ’96, a founder of A4P and one of the leaders of a 1995 sit-in at Nassau Hall to protest a lack of courses in Asian-American and Latino studies.

That demonstration, like other attempts to raise the issue over the past three decades, achieved few permanent results, Chou said. But this time, she said, “I am cautiously optimistic.” She cited faculty leadership for a stronger institutional commitment to Asian-American studies by creative writing professor Chang-rae Lee, English and African-American studies professor Anne Cheng ’85, and history professor Hendrik Hartog, director of the American studies program.  

A student task force is supporting Asian-American studies at Princeton, Chou said, and Asian-American alumni have been energized by gatherings at Reunions the last two years.  

Cheng said that Asian-American studies has evolved since its start as a form of identity politics, and that the field is now important in researching the meaning of race in today’s society. Cheng, who taught a fall-semester course called “Chinatown USA,” said her hiring by Princeton “is a sign that things can happen.” But she said more hires are needed.  

Graduate students are planning a symposium on Asian-American studies in April that will feature scholars in the field, including prominent alumni, Chou said.  

David P. Dobkin, dean of the faculty, said the proposal is “under active discussion” by University officials and that his office is sympathetic to the concerns expressed by supporters. “We will be watching with great interest” to see the level of enrollment in Asian-American courses, he said.