Yung-Yi Diana Pan has been part of the Department of Sociology at Brooklyn College since 2012. Her areas of expertise include institutional cultures, immigrant adaptation, race and ethnicity, culture, professional education, professions, ethnic studies, qualitative research methods.

Her first book, Incidental Racialization: Performative Assimilation in Law School, examines the socialization of Asian American and Latino law students as racialized immigrants entering an elite profession. She is currently working on two separate, ongoing intwined projects—one examines race and racism within the “elite” professions, and the another interrogates the culture and processes of recovery for drug addicts.

BC: What is significant about Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, particularly in 2021?

YP: Federally recognized in 1977, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month is little known in American society. Some colleges and universities may plan events, and businesses may host luncheons or speakers. But beyond that, most Americans are unaware of it. Broad ignorance or apathy to AAPI Heritage Month is akin to our country’s general disregard toward Americans of Asian and Pacific Island ancestry. There is a lack of critical engagement with, and understanding of the AAPI experience, and this has contributed to the growing spate of anti-AAPI violence and xenophobia that we have been seeing and experiencing since early 2020.

AAPI Heritage Month is especially important in 2021 as we reckon with the marginalization of AAPI history and experiences. Scapegoating, xenophobia, and violence targeted at the AAPI community is not new. We have been here before as a country. We need to better recognize and understand that connection.

BC: What are your feelings on this new wave of anti-Asian violence and some possible solutions?

YP: I have mixed emotions about this new wave of anti-AAPI violence. I am saddened but not surprised. As an Asian American woman, I do not know even know what being an American looks like without harassment, invisibility, and experiencing race-based biases. This has been my reality—and the reality of AAPIs across the country.

Since the beginning of 2020, members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community—scholars who study race and ethnicity, historians, etc.—cautioned that the initial shunning, long stares, and harassment would worsen without concerted intervention. But there was little to no recognition among non AAPIs. This is unsurprising when our society broadly brands Asian Americans as model minorities who do not experience adversity, or that the challenges of AAPIs are continuously minimalized and discounted.

The solution for an institution of higher education is better curriculum that centers AAPI experiences. We need Asian American Studies curriculum that addresses not only the history of Asian migration—AAPIs have been in the United States since the 1500s—but also current day immigration trends, health outcomes, educational stratification, etc. Covering content on a particular Asian country or devoting one day in class to an Asian ethnic group’s experience does not center Asian American and Pacific Islanders. If anything, those are examples of disregard and foreignization.

As a society, we also need to recognize that different racialized groups experience racism differently. Regarding AAPI students, how do educators perceive them? What kind of implicit expectations or assumptions do we have about them? How does that adversely affect their learning outcome? In the work world, do employers consider the needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders? What are the implicit expectations or biases that hinder one’s advancement? Continued research find that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a difficult time being promoted in the corporate world, not unlike their Black and Latinx counterparts. Institutions need to examine how their anti-racist solutions include or neglect the diversity of race-based experiences. This takes work.

If an institution—any institution—is truly invested in equity, it needs to actively invest in its community. Sending out a passive email honoring the Lunar New Year or celebrating AAPI Heritage Month without addressing AAPI issues throughout the year are not solutions. These attempts only demonstrate further disregard and lack of commitment to anti-racism.

BC: Are you addressing this issue, both in and out of your classes?

YP: Looking at different racialized experiences is a crucial part of my general teaching, and I incorporate that into all of my of my classes. These classes range from race and ethnicity, to research methods, to classical social theory. The pandemic has coincided with my sabbatical, so I have been given room to think about how to more effectively affect change.

For one, I have become more active in my local community, working on social justice and racial equity issues. After the murder of George Floyd last summer, I offered four weeks of free zoom classes for school-age children on the history of racialization. Over 100 children ages 9-17 joined in the lessons, mostly from New York, but also from elsewhere in the country, and a few from Canada.  I have become involved in the local schools on DEI issues, and I work closely with teachers and administrators. After the murders in Georgia in March, I have been speaking with local and nonlocal press. I recently co-wrote an analysis on the dangers of the model minority image, published in the Washington Post.

I have also become more assured of my own research agenda and the value of it. I am looking forward to writing my next book on the experiences of elite professionals —attorneys, physicians, and professors.

BC: There was recently a virtual “speak out” event organized by yourself and others at Brooklyn College. What was your takeaway from that event and are there more planned? Are there similar events and initiatives in the works?

YP: The “speak out” was a much-needed event. While the organizers set the stage, it was really a chance for the BC community to share and bear witness. I found the messages powerful. The fact that a few senior AAPI faculty mentioned that forum being the first-time space was made to address the concerns of APPIs—that says something about our campus community and our values. I received a lot of positive feedback after the event, and some offers to collaborate to work on a more inclusive campus. I think those are good signs that people were listening and wanting to affect change.

Brooklyn College, through the “We Stand Against Hate” initiative, recently hosted Dr. Julie Park from the University of Maryland, College Park last week. She gave a talk on the diverse experiences of AAPI students.