The UC Santa Barbara Department of Asian American Studies implemented an interdisciplinary postdoctoral emphasis for the first time in university history at the start of Spring Quarter 2023. 

The group of graduate students underpinning the effort gained support from several other departments on campus. The proposal was submitted for approval, and the graduate council approved the postdoctoral emphasis beginning spring quarter. 

“Graduate school is a very isolating experience,” history and Asian American doctoral student Donna Anderson said. “What the emphasis has provided for us is this opportunity to really build community and, in turn, that really strengthens our research.”

According to an article in The Current, efforts to create a postdoctoral emphasis started as early as February 2017. 

Anderson said she has been limited by an inability to pursue her studies at a higher level. 

“The limitations that existed were really about whether or not I would get the training I needed to be considered an Asian American scholar when I left UC Santa Barbara,” Anderson said. 

She said that the delay of the emphasis being implemented was not due to a lack of interest — as many graduate students expressed interest — but a faculty shortage. 

“The reality is that Asian American studies department is primarily directed towards undergraduates, and so every faculty member is very impacted by the amount of classes they have to teach,” Anderson said. 

The lack of available faculty and courses left no room for graduate students in the department to further pursue their studies and training.

Newly appointed graduate advisor Lisa Sun-Hee Park assisted the efforts. Park hosted group readings where students throughout several departments shared their desire for the emphasis, as well as getting faculty support. 

“The idea was to get some sort of graduate training in the department,” Park said. “To give it the coherence and order that it needed.” 

Asian American studies at UCSB started in 1969 as a two-year program under the Agency for Experimental Programs. The program centered around the unique histories, cultures and challenges of Asian immigrants and their descendants, with a focus on social justice. 

A proposal for a bachelor’s in Asian American Studies was written in 1994, and after gaining formal approval from a UC-wide committee, the program was formally granted departmental status on Jan. 19, 1995. 

With that, UCSB became the first major research university in the country with a department dedicated to Asian American studies. Since then, the department has grown to offer a variety of courses relating to Asian American literature, migration and religion but was missing opportunities at a higher institutional level. 

The department hosted multiple Asian American studies graduate reading seminars, which was supported by the collaborative Pan-Asian Network to highlight Asian and Asian American issues on campus and graduate students’s desires for an emphasis.

What was really nice about that process is that it really was coming out of what graduate students felt like they needed, what graduate students desired,” Anderson said.

A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the May 25, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.