Asian/Asian American Open Letter to Princeton Theological Seminary
To the Administration of Princeton Theological Seminary
Asian and Asian-American Concerns in light of Princeton Theological Seminary’s Vision
This letter is the result of many conversations that have been taking place among Asian and Asian-American students at Princeton Theological Seminary. These conversations have been inspired by the recent initiatives taken to re-establish and strengthen PTS’s relationship with the Korean Presbyterian Church. We have also been excited about the reinstatement of the AAP (Asian-American Program) at PTS. It is a much-needed program, which can be of great benefit to Asian and Asian-American communities alike.
While recognizing the importance of re-establishing a historic relationship between PTS and the churches in Korea, we find the need to express a warning about losing the important distinction between “Asia” and “Asian-America.” We seek, through this letter, to celebrate the seminary’s global vision and contribute to the conversation whereby Asian and Asian-American students can participate in and further the important discussions the PTS administration has begun.
The Diversity of Asia and of Asian-America
We first would like to point towards the ambiguity and inner complexity of the social categories of both “Asia” and “Asia-America.” As a geographical continent, “Asia” is intersected by a rich plurality of different nations, cultures, histories, and realities. Thus, we should avoid hasty generalizations to statically define or to collapse “Asia” as a singular entity. Similarly “Asian-America” is also complex, and ought to be recognized as an important part of the United States. Asian-Americans have significant communities belonging to the U.S. nation, and they are Japanese, Chinese, Filipino/a, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, and more – as well as Korean.
Although there is this great diversity in Asian-American communities in the U.S., we underscore with equal vigor, that a clear distinction must be maintained between discourses concerning Asia and those concerning Asian-America. Asian-Americans, in the U.S. and on this campus suffer a distinctive discrimination, guided often by stereotypes of the “perpetual foreigner,” the “model minority” – or, when we are considered too numerous, “the yellow horde.” This, in turn, generates a distinctive Christian ministry and theology by Asian-Americans that Asian churches often do not readily grasp experientially. Therefore, any attention towards Asia must take into account the great differences that exist between Asian-American communities in the U.S. (what they suffer and also contribute), and the communities on the continent of Asia. Paradoxically perhaps, understanding Asian-Americans within the U.S. helps further a proper understanding of Asia globally. In other words, the “worldwide” that is spoken of in our school’s mission statement must take into full consideration the inner complexity of diasporic, immigrant, and minority communities within the U.S. before looking beyond its borders. As the Asian-American population is the fastest growing minority group in this country today, the need to recognize these distinctions and complexities are even more important than before. Recognizing and guarding these distinctions is not only of service to Asians and Asian-Americans in the PTS student body, but also essential to the education of all our students at PTS and in U.S. theological education.
The Direction of the Asian-American Program (AAP)
In light of the complexities listed above, we are concerned about the ambiguous role of the AAP on this campus. In particular, we are concerned that it has often seemed that the administration has come dangerously close to subsuming all of “Asia” within discussions centering around Korea, and then, in a parallel problematic way, also collapsing “Asian-America” into “Asia,” or “Korean-America” into “Korea.”
Asian-American studies programs all around the country, like those of African-American studies, have perennially been placed within American studies. These programs have developed sophisticated discourses that have greatly contributed to important theory in U.S. higher education, particularly in the areas of gender studies and critical race theory. This contribution of Asian-American theory is lost if the distinctiveness of the U.S. Asian-American community is not kept to the fore. An ethical embrace of AAP’s own title (as Asian American), therefore, must include this PTS program’s ability to be in dialogue with this discourse in higher education. The areas of Asian-American Christian theology, ethics and ministry also are increasingly integrated with this approach in U.S. higher education. Respecting the “Asian-Americanness” of U.S. theory and theology will not only allow AAP to better serve the churches here in the United States, but will also allow PTS to be more relevant to the global churches. This is because the critical engagement with race, postcoloniality, and gender theory, as they have developed in the U.S. academies, is an increasingly urgent conversation that is also recognized as valuable worldwide—including in Asia. Students, particularly Asian-American students, ought to be more closely engaged and heard in order for the AAP to be more effective and less ambiguous in its work on campus. Asian students, too, of course, must be welcome and heard in our community, but without a simple merger of their concerns with those of Asian-Americans.
- Because of the growing number of Asian and Asian-American students in the PTS community, it is obvious that our school needs to a) offer more courses on Asian-American and Asian Christianity; b) make these courses count as requirements; and c) hire a full-time faculty member whose specialty is directly relevant to both Asian- America and Asia – treating them both, but without confusion.
- There is a need for a faculty search committee for, at least, one new hire in these areas, which will prioritize good scholarship and relevant interests. This search committee we presume would proceed with all the rigor and vetting by faculty, students and administration that has occurred with other search committees. Simply a church or seminary connection, growing out of PTS’s mission-field history in South Korea, or in any other Asian context abroad, which generates potential faculty appointees at PTS, would not meet the needs of the Asian-American community in the U.S., nor, we believe those of Asia more globally.
- Thus, any such faculty hire should be able to work alongside the AAP, meaning that s/he must be qualified to engage in the academic discourse of Asian-American studies, particularly on gender and race. Only with sufficient research qualifications can a scholar be expected to properly speak about our communities. We are aware that some Korean church officials and scholars do not offer a robust support of gender and racial equality and complexity, as these have developed in U.S. Korean-American and other Asian-American communities in this country.
- It has seemed from numerous announcements that there is a growing financial partnership between PTS and the Korean churches and seminaries, as well as increased representation by Koreans on the PTS Board of Trustees (we are not sure of the numbers here). Because of the complex and varied make up of both “Asian” and Asian-American Christianity, we urge that Board membership also be equally extended to Christian leaders of South Asia and South East Asia, as well as to international leaders from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East/West Asia. There are Reformed scholars on all these continents.
- The administration needs to increase the resources allocated towards the AAP. One part-time staff member is not sufficient to serve the Asian and Asian-American student community with academic, ministerial, and/or professional guidance.
- The administration needs to have full transparency of the budget of the AAP with the students of AAPTS, and seek to be in constant and consistent dialogue with the student group on how to better use the allocated resources to better serve the community.
The Asian & Asian-American community of PTS and its allies