Hello, friends, students, alumni and colleagues. As we reach this time of reflection upon the academic year coming to an end – sure to be one of the most challenging and transformational years of our lives, I am struck by the many ways that we have seen Asia’s growing significance for Utah, the U.S., and the world. Accompanying Asia’s global influence is the relevance of a robust, interdisciplinary Asian Studies program for our university and wider community. As students and scholars of Asian Studies, we may have trained our eyes upon the region from a distance in response to COVID-19 travel restrictions, but we have not taken a break from scholarship, study and engagement in Asia. As I write this message, India, the world’s top producer of vaccines, finds itself overwhelmed with the largest daily COVID case count faced by any country since the start of the pandemic. And, while they may have exited from our daily headlines, Myanmar’s citizens have continued to bravely take to the streets for nearly three months, facing ruthless police and military violence as they protest against the military coup that overturned elected leaders and a decade of democratic reforms. Last week, hosting the first world leader visit to the White House of his presidency, President Biden met with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan, shoring up their alliance in the context of China’s growing military, technological and economic might. These are among the numerous signs which point to the increasing importance of education and outreach focused on enhancing Asian language proficiency and deepening understanding of Asia in the world. Asian Studies knowledge and skills will prove invaluable for supporting diplomacy, global health, human security, and international trade, not to mention informed conversations and healthy debate on some of the most important issues of our times.
Recognizing the social, emotional and health toll of COVID19 upon our students, families and communities, many of our faculty and students have taken the challenges of COVID19 in stride. The digital platforms of Zoom and Canvas have opened doors and compressed vast distances, allowing us to welcome international guests into our events and classrooms. In forums co-sponsored with the Hinckley Institute we were able to hear first-hand about the political situations unfolding in Taiwan and Myanmar through the virtual presentations of scholars based in those countries (including one dedicated guest who joint us at 3 am Taiwan time). Following on a virtual event “Bridging International Borders in Academic: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” that linked University of Utah faculty and students with students at the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Asian Studies faculty affiliate and Associate Professor of Economics, Haimanti Bhattacharya, has begun a scholarly exchange with AUW to advance comparative study of the impact of street harassment upon women in South Asia. In parallel fashion, I have begun planning a collaborative course with faculty at the Fulbright University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on the legacies of the American War in Vietnam. The course will engage Vietnamese and American students over digital remote learning platforms as they explore how war has shaped their landscapes, families, and identities. Although we have learned to cope and even thrive in the face of public health measures, we anxiously await the reopening of international travel so that we can rekindle our overseas connections, work at our research sites, and scratch our travel itches.
Along with university and community partners, the Asia Center’s staff and affiliates continue to mourn the tragic loss of life in mass killings in Atlanta and Indianapolis this spring. The deaths of six women of Asian descent in Atlanta and four members of the Sikh community in Indianapolis are an outgrowth of the unprecedented levels of hate crime, violence and harassment directed toward Asian Americans in the post-Trump, COVID-19 era. The staff of the Asia Center perceive an urgent need to work to confront the many diverse currents of anti-Asian violence and racism in our society, currents that flow from the current sociopolitical context, but also represent legacies of Asian exclusion, colonialism and militarism across Asia and the Pacific. We do this work in our engagement with students, such as the “Traveling While…” series, led by our IAS advisors and events coordinator, which centers the overseas travel experiences of students and professionals of color, LGBTQ individuals, and other groups whose insights and perspectives have been historically underrepresented in learning abroad programs. The Asia Center, with support from the Confucius Institute, has also partnered with the Tanner Humanities Center to engage K-12 teachers in pedagogical training workshops to support integrating lessons on Asian migration and Asian exclusion into their curricula. This important work will continue this summer, in an Asia-Center supported Tanner Gateway to Learning workshop for K-12 teachers focused upon teaching WWII-era Japanese internment and incarceration. Chinese immigrants’ contributions to the American West, and their experiences of discrimination and exclusion, are uniquely conveyed in a poem and multimedia digital platform, West: A Translation, created by Asian Studies faculty affiliate, Professor of English, and Utah poet laureate, Paisley Rekdal. Rekdal’s website represents one of the many resources shared with communities within and beyond the University of Utah, which have been supported by the UU Confucius Institute.
In the space of a newsletter we can only capture the tip of the iceberg of our students’ and faculty members’ many awards, publications and accomplishments. The faculty we’ve profiled in this newsletter have achieved career milestones that stand out amidst an incredibly productive and accomplished Asian Studies faculty. I want to wish all of our faculty well and express my deep gratitude to them for pouring tireless efforts, creative ideas, and genuine concern for student learning and wellbeing into their teaching and mentoring this past year. I also want to convey my appreciation to the staff in the International and Area Studies programs for maintaining excellent programs and outstanding student support, all while working remotely under a variety of difficult circumstances. The IAS staff and Asian Studies advisory committee were central to the Asian Studies program completing our first ever Graduate Council Review with flying colors. Finally, I want to express my congratulations to our students, and especially our graduates, for their successful completion of this academic year like no other. We are impressed with the fortitude, empathy for others, and resilience you have shown in your academic and extracurricular work this year. Good wishes for a much deserved restful and enjoyable summer break!
While our communications will lull a bit in the months ahead, we will keep you posted on developments for the 2021-22 academic year. We have planned a host of exciting new courses for our undergraduate major, a new research design course for our Asian Studies MA program, a film series focused on Asian America, and, we hope, the gradual resumption of in-person meetings and events.
Congratulations to our award-winners and graduates, and a healthy, happy summer to all!