Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Sisterhood Scholarship: North American Asian Feminists Increase Their Influence through Courses That Explore Their Unique History and Experiences

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Sisterhood Scholarship: North American Asian Feminists Increase Their Influence through Courses That Explore Their Unique History and Experiences

Article excerpt

With a relatively recently formed National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) caucus, Asian American women's and gender studies scholars find unity and develop courses that explore their unique experiences.

When it comes to race issues and discussion of women of color within women's and gender studies, Asian American scholars have often felt isolated and unrepresented. At the 2010 conference of NWSA, a number of the scholars began meeting and creating a group where they saw other women who not only shared similar ethnicities but also had a commitment to developing courses and research that addressed the history and experiences of North American Asian women.

Now an official caucus within NWSA, the North American Asian Feminist (NAAF) Collective Caucus is built with a purpose to enrich and broaden cutting-edge feminist scholarship at NWSA and within their respective fields. NAAF scholarship highlights feminist and activist work by feminists of Asian descent and others and centers on the lived experiences of North American Asian communities through intersectional, interdisciplinary, hemispheric, global and comparative approaches.

"Our scholarship is about being North American Asian, doing work that... is grounded here, where we stand, where we live, where we are," says Dr. Jo-Anne Lee, an associate professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, who is currently teaching the course North American Asian Feminist Thought and Action.

North American Asian feminist scholars often encounter a binary understanding of race within women's and gender studies as well as in the world. They have found that explorations of gender, race and intersectionality rarely consider the lived experiences of Asian Americans.

Dr. Cecilia Herles, assistant director of the Institute for Women's Studies at the University of Georgia, studies and teaches about food insecurity, the likelihood that one does not have adequate means to address food needs.

"The way that studies have been done and have focused on the populations that are facing it hasn't really looked at the experiences of Asian Americans who are facing this particular pressing issue," says Herles, who is teaching the course North American Asian Feminisms this semester. "A binary understanding of race is highly problematic because, even in the census of looking at food insecurity, these populations aren't even documented."

Herles says that she's isolated in terms of scholars in the southeastern United States examining North American Asian feminist issues, but she feels it is relevant given the rising population of Asians in the state of Georgia.

"It is very relevant within women's and gender studies that we don't continue to allow for this invisibility of Asian American women within our understandings of women's voices and narratives," says Herles. "There are a lot of textbooks, for example, that overlook and cover over these experiences and these voices."

Historical legacy

"One of the things that I attempt to do with offering a class on North American Asian feminisms is simply to provide a space where we look at subjugated knowledge and histories to unpack what it means to be Asian American, how that ties into historical legacies of racism and sexism," Herles notes.

Herles says that the course provides a forum for many of her students to explore their own understanding of their identities. She challenges students to pursue that knowledge base so they may understand their experiences and themselves better.

"It's definitely been a means of providing something within the curriculum that hasn't been there," says Herles, who also introduces these ideas in other women's studies courses. For example, in her theory course, she presents the work of theorists who are interested in examining Asian American experiences.

For Dr. Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, director and a professor of women's studies at Southern Connecticut State University and a co-founder of NAAF, it is a matter of incorporating North American Asian issues into her courses. …

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