About a year ago, a few faculty and staff members of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent started to have some discussions around the fact that they did not have much representation on campus. They were seeking a voice and a platform to be heard on a number of issues, including the rising tide of anti-Asian rhetoric and violence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They tried to identify faculty and staff and gathered some contact information, but their efforts faded a bit when everyone’s world was turned upside down by quarantine life.

Earlier this year, when anti-Asian violence surged, they knew they needed to take action. So a week after a March shooting spree in Atlanta left eight people dead, including six Asian women, the loose-knit group helped to organize, in conjunction with the Office of Diversity and Equity programs, a speak-out. The well-attended virtual event ended up being a catalyst.

“There were a lot of raw emotions,” says Yung-Yi Diana Pan, an associate professor in the Sociology Department, who is also on the board of CUNY’s Asian American/Asian Research Institute. “I still get chills thinking about the faces of people who talked about their experiences, about the name-calling and harassment. But they also spoke a lot about feeling marginalized on campus and not having representation. That was very real. It lit a fire under those of us who had visited this.”



Thus, the Asian American Faculty and Staff Association of Brooklyn College was born. By late April, the group voted on their bylaws and in mid-May voted in their inaugural officers, including co-chairs Pan and Sau-fong Au, the director of the Brooklyn College Women’s Center. Rhea Rahman, an assistant professor of anthropology, was voted in as vice chair; Vinit Parmar, an associate professor of film will serve as the treasurer; and Mobina Hashmi, an assistant professor in the Department of Television, Radio and Emerging Media, will be the secretary.

“We have a history at Brooklyn College where faculty of color caucus together and identify common issues and create a space for ourselves,” says Au. “I always say we are entitled to it.”

There was already a working group of professors who had been putting together a proposal for an Asian American Studies program, of which Pan is a part. It had been around for decades but revitalized itself in 2018 with the support of the college administration. While the proposal for a full program would have to go through CUNY, Pan says the college may be able to start offering some classes by the fall of 2022.

“The fact that Asian American and indigenous studies have been obscured speaks to how we understand race in this country,” says Pan, thinking about the Atlanta shootings. “The academy didn’t have a concerted investment, which is why people were surprised when Georgia happened.”

What’s more, Au points out that more than 20 percent of Brooklyn College students are of Asian American or Pacific Islander heritage—a diversity that is in itself diverse when you include the East Asian, South Asian, and indo-Caribbean communities in Brooklyn. “We are really doing them a disservice without providing classes that represent their history,” she says.

“I’ve had Jamaican students come up to me to talk about their Chinese grandparents,” adds Pan. “We are not able to fully study that without an Asian-American curriculum.”

To that end, the association has prioritized support for the academic program but also plans to offer more speak-outs and other programming, in addition to helping to support each other on campus.

“What’s really important is that we can serve as an entity to advocate for and represent each other,” says Au.