Post- Magazine

asian in academia [red envelope stories]

As a graduate student in ‘71, there were maybe 50 Asian Americans on campus. If you walked across campus and you passed another Asian and didn't say hello, it became a big deal around campus, like why didn’t so-and-so wave? You can't imagine that today.

We went through a huge struggle in the 1980s over admission quotas on Asians. We wanted to support affirmative action, but at the same time, we did not want discrimination against Asian Americans. It was a long struggle that might have been the struggle that really got me in trouble, but ultimately, it changed the complexion of this very campus.

When I graduated, I started teaching Asian American studies as special “diversity” courses and for many years they were the only Asian American classes. It was a battle to establish an ethnic studies concentration. We had to organize ourselves. Students were key players who provided a great deal of energy to the movement.

During this time, a huge crisis of confidence occurred when I came up for tenure and the Department voted unanimously in favor but the university committee on tenure denied me. It was scary... but Asian American representation had become a national issue and Asian American students and scholars from all over the country were protesting a lack of diversity within academia. Eventually, Brown’s president, Gregorian, took my case and the board finally reversed their decision.

—Professor Robert Lee
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