Statement on the TAAF Grant Read

In Support of Academic Freedom and Faculty of Color

The controversy surrounding the publication by Associate Professor Naoko Shibusawa, a long-time advocate for ethnic studies at Brown University, offers an opportunity for the Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS) to articulate its foundational commitment to both academic freedom and to the needed advocacy by and for Asian American Studies scholars, in particular Asian American women. AAAS is not weighing in on the personnel matters at Brown University nor on the specific content of Shibusawa’s article that appeared in the Journal of Asian American Studies (JAAS), “Where is the Reciprocity? Notes on Solidarity from the Field” (volume 25, number 2). We speak to the broader issues that this case calls forward. 

Academic freedom is essential to the production and dissemination of critical scholarship. The editors of JAAS wrote a letter to Brown University in regards to Shibusawa’s article (Journal of Asian American Studies Letter on Professor Naoko Shibusawa’s Article). The letter endorses academic freedom as the cornerstone of the journal, and AAAS stands behind this letter. Asian American Studies, along with ethnic studies, gender studies, queer studies, disability studies, and others, have pushed the envelope of academic discourse and depend on academic freedom to make their often controversial critiques. These intersectional fields turned scholarly attention not just to the injustices outside the walls of the university but also to the reproduction of knowledge within them. Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other marginalized groups are not problems to be studied, if studied at all within traditional disciplines. Instead, Asian American Studies positions AAPIs as agents of change, as advocates, and even as subjects to be critiqued. Rather than frame minoritized groups as separate and at odds with one another, we have insisted on the mutual solidarities in our critiques against racial capitalism, U.S. empire, hetero-patriarchy, and more. Academic freedom also undergirds our advocacy. For example, AAAS recently wrote against the passing of the teaching of Asian American Studies in Florida as the state undermines African American Studies and in defense of a full curriculum in AP African American Studies.

This political solidarity stems in part from our shared experiences as often faculty of color. Even as Asian Americans are ignored in conversations on race in higher education, faculty experience similar levels of stress from discrimination and similar dissatisfaction as Black and Latinx faculty. Asian American women, in particular, carry burdens of invisible labor and often must continually prove their worth. A leaky tenure-line pipeline has resulted in fewer Asian American women being promoted to associate professor, to full professor, and to administrative leadership relative to the number of eligible women than as for white men. Women of color encounter a range of stereotypes, from being docile to quick to anger, that create under-recognized barriers to receiving equal levels of respect and authority as scholars and experts. While the experiences of any individual faculty member and campus are unique, they take place within a broader cultural and political landscape. The goal is to not merely support Asian American women but to alter the structures that further these inequalities. 

AAAS takes this opportunity to affirm our commitment to supporting Asian American and women of color scholars and faculty. Full academic freedom is only possible once we recognize and change conditions to attend to the disproportionate burdens and barriers faced by women and scholars of color.

Executive Board, Association for Asian American Studies