Center for Asian American Studies
Center for Asian American Studies

Spotlight on Dr. Madeline Hsu

Thu, August 9, 2007

Dr. Madeline Y. Hsu, recently appointed the new director of the Center for Asian American Studies, comes to UT by way of San Francisco. Dr. Hsu spent 10 years at San Francisco State University, which has the only College of Ethnic Studies in the country and one of the oldest Asian American Studies departments. She is excited about being at the University of Texas to help build on what has already been established in the center.

"So much can be accomplished here,"said Hsu, who also conveyed that "many people don't realize there is a very significant population of Asian Americans in the State."In fact, Texas has the third largest population of Asian-Americans in the nation, more than Hawaii. Approximately 15-17% of the student population at UT consists of Asian Americans, including students from Vietnam, South Asia, China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. "Having this Center here is very organic due to this large population," said Dr. Hsu.

Currently the Center for Asian American Studies has six core faculty members. Professor Hsu believes this is not enough to address student needs. She points out that the center needs to "put forth a full range of courses that reflects what is available in the field and our tremendous diversity of students. We also don't have enough faculty to cover the courses we need for our majors--CAAS is highly dependent on lecturers which is a fundamentally unstable system." Intellectually, a larger mission the Center for Asian American Studies has is to encourage scholarship on Asians in Texas. Dr Hsu stated she "would like to push for hemispheric approaches that integrate Asians in Latin America. Very little work has been done in this area." To accomplish this, she said more faculty and staff are needed. In addition, she would like to develop a course on oral history, which professor Hsu believes is "a way of fostering this engagement between what goes on in the university and what happens in the outside world." The University is presently looking to create new tenured-track lines for the center.

One issue that confronts many Asian American students is the notion that they are the "model minority" group here in the United States. This stereotype assumes that students of Asian lineage are focused on a limited array of course work. "People are often under assumption that all Asian students excel in Engineering, Accounting and Mathematics," said professor Hsu. "This is certainly not the case for many people." She also pointed out that "those students not interested or strong in these particular areas can have increased feeling of insecurity and inadequacy because people assume that intrinsically they are a certain way." Having a wider selection of courses available and a more fully developed and comprehensive center she believes will help lessen the degree to which the "model minority" stereotype affects Asian American students. More specifically, "the courses enrich understandings of Asian American experiences, history, and culture by exploring the tremendous range of political activism, artistic expression, and negotiations with discrimination and adaptation," said Hsu. Because so many (70 percent) are immigrants, greater understanding of Asian American experiences provide an illuminating lens for understanding American society in general in our contemporary, highly conflicted debates regarding citizenship, immigration rights and status, multiculturalism, and national identity.

In discussing her vision for the center, she stated increased involvement with community organizations was as a high priority. "Texas has a long history of Asian American presence. There are Japanese and Chinese who have been here since before the start of World War II," said Hsu. She went on to add that these groups are "very organized and increasingly more visible in the community."

Dr. Hsu is at present meeting with the Network of Asian American Organizations, which is a 10-year old entity here in Austin. This pan-ethnic network consists of fourteen organizations and their current main project is the creation of an Asian American resource center. Professor Hsu and the organizations envision a center with offices, a performance space and classrooms, all as a means to "provide a gathering place for many different communities." According to Hsu, this is a long term municipal project of 8-10 years, with a budget of approximately $35 million dollars. The project received start-up funds in Proposition 4 from this past election cycle along with funding for Mexican and African American Centers.

The Center is also meeting with The Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation, which is collecting and archiving historical documents relating to the Vietnamese American experience. "The goal of this foundation is to create an historical center where people can do research." Dr. Hsu added that "a partnership with UT would provide this group with access to our collections." At this point, the Center for Asian American studies is not yet partnering with these organizations. "It's pretty hard to do at this juncture because we don't have the staff for it. It is on the long-term agenda but I do want people to know that there are organizations doing great work," said Hsu.

The University of Texas is fortunate to have Professor Madeline Hsu. Her past experience working at one of the more established Asian American departments in the nation, coupled with her mission to expand the center here at UT, make her an incredibly valuable asset to our institution. Dr. Hsu summed it up by saying, "there are many so many possibilities here. It is an exciting time to be part of this Center."

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