About the Summer Institute

Project Description

The Center for Ethnic Studies at the City University of New York’s Borough of Manhattan Community College is delighted to host a 12-month program to expand the teaching of Asian American Studies in community college classrooms across humanities disciplines. 

The program will begin with a Faculty Development Summer Institute for CUNY Community College Faculty (August 15-20, 2016) for 15 selected participants to study and develop curricular materials for use in the classroom.

Through engagement with academic scholarship, literary texts, community organizing and cultural work, the Institute will examine the following topical areas: critical concepts and frameworks in Asian American Studies; new Asian immigrant communities in New York City; gender and sexual labor; transnationalism and cultural production; Asian/American racialization, race and caste, cross-racial relationships, and diaspora.  The Institute will reconvene participants for one day-long session on December 2, 2016 and one day-long session on May 5, 2017.

The Summer Institute will be followed by a  monthly public Colloquium in Asian American Studies at BMCC (2016–2017) to highlight emergent interdisciplinary research, cultural production, and innovative pedagogy.  Selected participants for the Summer Institute will be expected to attend the Colloquia sessions.

Throughout this project, we will collectively build an interactive digital repository that will chronicle project activities and teaching materials. The digital repository will include resources such as teaching modules, interactive maps and timelines of NYC neighborhoods, links to the work of artists/cultural workers, and links to community-based organizations. We will collectively build the website during the Institute and will update it with current news stories, blog posts, and other relevant materials for teaching and research about Asian American communities in NYC.

Project Background

The aim of this project is to cultivate discussion of the vibrant array of academic and community-based scholarship, literary works, and other artistic/cultural productions that are emerging by and about Asian American communities in New York City.

Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in New York City and currently make up almost 14% of the city’s population.1 Yet the histories and identities of Asian American communities in New York City, and on the East Coast more generally, have historically been less visible in academic scholarship. This project seeks to build a locally relevant understanding of Asian American experiences in New York City, by attending, in particular, to narratives by and about new, diasporic and/or refugee immigrant communities.

Without the resources to house formal Asian American Studies programs, our community college humanities classrooms have been challenged to fully reflect and represent the diverse issues, histories, and experiences of our student bodies. Despite the wide circulation of “model minority” narratives about Asian American academic achievement, the percentage of Asian American college students enrolled in community colleges in the US, currently at 40%, is actually growing.3 As of Fall 2014, Asian Americans made up almost 16% of the enrolled students at CUNY community colleges and over 27% of the student body on some campuses.4 As the CUNY community colleges are minority-serving institutions, building a polycultural Asian American Studies in the community college classroom is also an important commitment to make to our general student body. Developing curricula that engages this diversity in meaningful, locally resonant ways will strengthen our students’ understanding of the multiracial, multiethnic world within which we live.

Being grounded in the diversity of our local communities allows us to cultivate what historian Robin Kelley calls a “polycultural”2 framework, or one that recognizes interrelationships between different cultures. A polycultural approach to Asian American Studies enables us to engage contemporary multiracial/multiethnic relationships in spaces that have traditionally been understood as ethnic enclaves. For example, a polycultural reading of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood looks beyond its Chinatown to see the convergences and divergences between working-class Asian and Latino communities facing displacement in the context of urban development. This framing allows us to see Jackson Heights, Queens, not simply as a “Little India” but a site in which Latino, Muslim, LGBTQ, and new South Asian Nepali and Bangladeshi communities are differently affected by post-9/11 surveillance and policing. A polycultural approach helps us to attend to sites that are not associated with Asian American communities, such as the Bronx, where Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees build neighborhood resources alongside Black communities. We can also see racial/ethnic and religious dynamics within Asian American communities, for example, by looking to neighborhoods like Richmond Hill, Queens, home to the largest concentrations of both Indo-Caribbean and Sikh communities in New York City. By learning from texts by and about local Asian American communities, we can gain a better understanding of the current realities of these groups but also of the dynamism and complexity of New York City itself.


All CUNY community college faculty are eligible for this program. Contingent faculty, including but not limited to adjuncts and visiting faculty, are encouraged to apply. 


All faculty participants will receive a stipend for their participation in this program. Faculty will receive $1200 for participation in the 8-day Summer Institute (which includes two follow-up sessions on December 2, 2016 and May 5, 2017).  In addition, participants who commit to attending the Colloquia will receive  additional stipends at the close of the academic year.

Selection Criteria

A selection committee made up of the project directors will read and evaluate all properly completed applications in order to select the most promising applicants and to identify a number of alternates.  The most important consideration in the selection of participants is the likelihood that an applicant will benefit professionally and personally. Committee members consider several factors, each of which should be addressed in the application essay. These factors include:

  1. effectiveness and commitment as a teacher/educator;
  2. intellectual interests, in general and as they relate to the work of the project;
  3. special perspectives, skills, or experiences that would contribute to the Institute;
  4. commitment to participate fully in the formal and informal collegial life of the project;
  5. the likelihood that the experience will enhance the applicant’s teaching.


1 Asian American Federation, Asian Americans in New York City: A Decade of Dynamic Change 2000–2010 (New York: Asian American Federation, 2012), 5.

2 Robin D.G. Kelley, “Polycultural Me,” ColorLines, September–October 1999, available online at Utne Reader, http://www.utne.com/politics/the-people-in-me.aspx.

3 Park, Julie J. “Over 40 Percent: Asian Americans and the Road(s) to Community Colleges.” (2013), https://cerpp.usc.edu/files/2013/10/Park-Over40PercentSummaryReport1.pdf

4 CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, “Total Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity and College: Percentages, Fall 2014,” http://www.cuny.edu/irdatabook/rpts2_AY_current/ENRL_0015_RACE_TOT_PCT.rpt.pdf.

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