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A Letter from our Director, Introducing the AADS Postdoctoral Associate, DAAA + AADS event, and more!
A Letter from our Director

From the Director: Thank you & Congratulations

I would like to share a few words of reflection as I complete my first year as the Director of AADS. The year has been a momentous one with many highlights. The year began with the launching of two featured event series: the Brown Bag Conversations and the Speaker Series. We hosted five Brown Bag sessions to facilitate discussions and collaborations within the Duke community. The Speaker Series featured six leading scholars in Asian American Studies around the country and showcased a diverse and exciting range of topics from the field. And of course, a new minor in AADS was unanimously approved after decades of student organizing.

We have much to celebrate as we look forward to 2022-23. The new academic year will begin with The Southeast Conference on Asian American Studies (September 9-10) that will take place in collaboration with the UNC Asian American Center, and we are planning an impressive slate of events and speakers throughout the year. At least four new AADS courses are being developed, and we will be welcoming a new postdoctoral fellow in the fall. I want to thank the AADS faculty, staff, and students and congratulate the graduating seniors. It’s been a challenging year with the ongoing pandemic, and we find ourselves at the end of it exhausted. But let’s pause to celebrate our accomplishments, and let’s carry the momentum forward to build a stronger community in 2022-23.

Esther Kim Lee
Director, Asian American and Diaspora Studies

Introducing the AADS Postdoctoral Associate
Athia N. Choudhury, PhD Candidate at the University of Southern California

Written by AADS Student Staff

I interviewed Athia at a moment in the semester when it felt like everyone was burnt out, the color beginning to seep out of school and work and life. The energy and insight that she brought to our Zoom meeting, though, reanimated a lot of hard issues I’d been thinking about, and carved out space for reflection on others. We talked about the tension between academia and the worlds it tries to study, the difficult task of organizing towards better futures while surviving in insufficient contemporaries, the framework that abolitionist principles offer for more intentional pedagogy. As we talked, I was struck by Athia’s grace, her wisdom, and her capacity to make and hold space to think through contradiction. Throughout our conversation, we kept returning to this boundary, perhaps sometimes too well enforced or created, between body and mind, the corporeal and the intellectual or spiritual. 

This tension (or at least perceived tension) is at the heart of their research, which focuses broadly on the concept of health and wellness, and how we’ve come to and continue to come to terms with its fluid social constructions. The rise of a neoliberal body positivity ideology (often paired with the corporatization of self-help) interestingly coincides with the rise of orthorexia nervosa, the fixation on consuming healthy or clean food, often at the expense of the body’s wellbeing. How have we come to have a relationship with our bodies through militarized food cultures, how can we heal our relationship to food and the body? Athia’s work draws on threads of thought from a wide variety of disciplines – decolonial fat studies, disability studies, Asian/American Transnational Feminisms, postcolonial theory – and pushes towards more complex understandings of these questions and the places they might take us. 

Athia’s research, constantly interrogating its own place in the Academy and in the world, is informed not only by the different communities she comes from, but also by her background in organizing spaces. We talked about the new language academia provides to process the trauma of coloniality, colonialism, and militarism, and the new lenses it offers to make sense of both the historical and the present, but we also talked about its insufficiency. “There’s this moment of tension,” Athia told me, “when the body’s pressing against the uncomfortable truths, or the uncomfortable knowledges,” but sometimes without the words or the answers to pin them down with. We sit with this friction, and sometimes it’s productive, but sometimes we just have to go live our life, and learning to do so is part of the work of organizing. Her organizing history spans time and place – as an undergrad, she was involved in efforts to get cops off campus, feminist organizing with Immokalee farmworkers, and labor organizing, and then went on to work with a nonprofit empowering Black and Brown communities, especially around rent control. “So much of how I approach the classroom space is through the mindset of an organizer,” Athia commented. “Oftentimes, in academic spaces, people are just supposed to bring their brains, and we forget that you’re a body first.” As such, her pedagogical positions are not only about disrupting hierarchies in the classroom, but also finding ways to allow people to show up as their best selves, and ways to “get the work done together.” 

Beyond what is often conceptualized as ‘getting the work done,’ imparting knowledge and then parting ways, Athia describes teaching as “healing work.” While giving students space to acquire new language for their material circumstances, her classes also are meant to allow students to think critically about themselves, and their place in the world, and the broader systems which affect both. This work takes on unique meaning at Duke, Athia remarked, because of the long history that Duke students have of organizing towards Asian American Studies. Her goal, in conversation with AASWG and other students, is to “offer language for the things that you guys have already been doing, and to put it in a context of a larger history.” By thus contextualizing student efforts, the hope is to help students situate themselves in a rich tapestry of organizing, of resistance, of world-making and language-finding. 

Athia will be teaching the gateway course to the new Asian American Diaspora Studies minor in the fall (AADS 201: Introduction to Asian American Diaspora Studies, cross-listed in English, Literature, AMES, History, and ICS!), and designing a special topics course on a topic related to her research in the spring. We’re so excited to welcome her to AADS!

A A D S  E V E N T S  + O P P O R T U N I T I E S
DAAA + AADS Present: The Past, Present, & Future of AAPI Activism & Engagement at Duke 
When: Monday, May 16, 8-9pm EDT
Where: Zoom, Registration is required 

Did you know that in 2018, Duke University established the Asian American & Diaspora Studies (AADS) program? AADS is the result of decades of Duke student activism. It is the first Asian American Studies program across southeastern universities in the U.S. Attend this session to learn about: (1) the journey culminating in the AADS program; (2) the current and future state of the program; and (3) how you can engage with AADS and the broader Duke Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Our featured panelists and moderator are listed as follows.

  • Dr. Jack Zhang ’11, Director of the KU Trade War Lab and Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas
  • Shania Khoo, Trinity Senior and President of Asian Students Association (ASA)
  • Sanjit Beriwal, Trinity Sophomore and Student Staff Assistant for AADS program 
  • Moderator: Dr. Esther Kim Lee P’26, Professor of Theater Studies & International Comparative Studies and the Director of the AADS program

Prior to the program, please read this article learn more about the AADS program and its new minor. You can register here.

AADS Minor | Fall 2022 Courses

Fall 2022 will be the first semester where AADS affiliated courses are being offered through the new minor program.

"The AADS minor requires one introductory course—either AADS 198/History 198, Introduction to Asian American History; or AADS 201S, Introduction to Asian American and Diaspora Studies—and four electives." - The Chronicle

This fall, four courses will be offered, including three elective courses. We're excited to share that the Intro to AADS course will taught by our incoming postdoctoral associate (Athia Choudhury, PhD Candidate). The three elective courses being offered are Asian American Theatre (Professor Esther Kim Lee), Race, Gender & Sexuality (Assistant Professor Anna Storti), and Listening to China (Assistant Professor Yun Emily Wang).
O T H E R  E V E N T S
APAMSA Perspectives on the Asian-American Experience Event 
When: Monday, May 26, 5-7pm EDT
Where: Zoom, Registration is required 

Join Duke's chapter of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) on Thursday, May 26th 5-7pm for a conversation on Perspectives on the Asian-American Experience in Medicine, Academia, and the Business of Healthcare. We are grateful to be hosting Dr. Vivian Lee, president of Verily Health Platforms and former dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, as our keynote speaker. We will follow her talk with a panel of Asian-American Duke medical faculty from a variety of specialties who will speak about their experiences in medicine and academia and will have time at the end for audience Q&A. Please RSVP here if you are interested in attending and to send any questions you have prior to the event for either Dr. Lee or our Duke panelists. We will send out a Zoom link to all who RSVP by May 23rd. This event is open to all in the Duke and Triangle community who are interested regardless of identity. We look forward to seeing you there!


Film Available for Streaming!

A film by Jiayan "Jenny" Shi about Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old Chinese student who comes to the United States to study. Now available on the video streaming database Projectr.EDU that Duke Libraries is trialing through April 30!

NCAAT Summer Internship! 

This internship is a paid opportunity for Asian American youth ages 18-22 to work in Asian American advocacy and social justice. Our interns will focus on youth engagement, voter engagement, voter advocacy. They will also have a personal project that is an opportunity to engage with a topic related to civic engagement and advocacy that they are passionate about! Learn more and apply here.

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies is publishing an interdisciplinary special issue that "invites contributions of scholarly, creative, movement, and visual works that speak to the historical, theoretical, methodological, experimental, and pedagogical possibilities of Asian American Abolition Feminisms. More information can be found here.
S U P P O R T   A A D S
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3) Search for "Asian American & Diaspora Studies Gift Fund"
If you are interested in highlighting any events, opportunities, and/or announcements in the Asian American and Diaspora Studies Program Newsletter, please send an email to with a flyer and blurb. All faculty, organizations, and departments are welcome to send over materials!
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