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Asian American Studies Now!: A Conversation with Alums and Faculty on the Founding of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program & Institute at NYU Twenty-Five Years Later

Organizer: A/P/A Institute at NYU
New York, NY United States
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Add to Calendar 10/26/2021 04:00 PM 10/26/2021 05:30 PM America/New_York Asian American Studies Now!: A Conversation with Alums and Faculty on the Founding of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program & Institute at NYU Twenty-Five Years Later More detail: https://apa.nyu.edu/event/asian-american-studies-now-a-conversation-with-alums-on-the-founding-of-the-asian-pacific-american-studies-program-institute-at-nyu/ , New York, NY

Co-presented by the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU and Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program in the NYU Department of Social and Cultural Analysis.

Curated by Eric Tang.


In the 1990s, decades after the pivotal student strikes that led to the establishment of the first Asian American studies programs in California, college students, many of whom were children of the post-1965 generation, in the midwest and on the east coast began fighting for the establishment of similar programs on their campuses. 

Here at NYU, a group of students came together in 1995, and with faculty support, began organizing for Asian American studies courses and a program. Through a series of actions, collaborations with students at Columbia and CUNY, and negotiations with the administration, the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute (now two separate entities) was founded in the fall of 1996.

To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of this watershed moment and to recognize the student activism and vision that made both the A/P/A Institute and A/P/A Studies Program possible, we welcome back the alums who were instrumental in these efforts.

Curated and moderated by Professor Eric Tang (NYU BA ‘96 and PhD ‘06), this roundtable will feature alum Ron Rapatalo (NYU BA ‘97), Risa Morimoto (former A/P/A staff member), Professor Robin D.G. Kelley (University of California, Los Angeles), Professor Thuy Linh Tu (NYU Department of Social & Cultural Analysis), and Sheelagh Cabalda (former A/P/A staff member).

Accessibility note: This event will be hosted virtually on Zoom. A Zoom account, internet access, and a smartphone or computer is required. Closed captioning will be provided for all audio. If you have any access needs, please email apa.rsvp@nyu.edu as soon as possible.



Eric Tang is an associate professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department and director of the Center for Asian American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His book, Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto (Temple University Press, 2015), is an ethnographic account of refugee life in some of New York City’s most impoverished and socially marginalized neighborhoods.

Sheelagh Cabalda was the first student affairs administrator hired to address the needs of Asian American students at NYU. She served as Assistant Director in NYU’s then Office for African American, Latino and Asian American Students from 1996-99 before joining the A/P/A Studies Program and Institute. Since her departure from NYU, she has worked in cancer support and non-profit development. Her poetry was recently published in the NoVA Bards 2021 Anthology. An education/school community advocate and mindfulness practitioner, she has facilitated mindfulness workshops for families at her daughter’s elementary school as well as internationally with her co-creator, Jenn Baljko of Always On My Way. Inspired by the Filipino value of kapwa, sacred interconnectedness, she has trained in mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and in yoga and mindfulness for children.

Robin D.G. Kelley is distinguished professor and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in US History at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research has explored the history of social movements in the US, the African Diaspora, and Africa; Black intellectuals; music and visual culture; Surrealism, Marxism, and more. He is the author of several books including Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012) and Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original  (The Free Press, 2009), and his essays have appeared in a wide variety of professional journals and general publications, including the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, The Nation, Monthly Review, New York Times, Color Lines, Counterpunch, Souls, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noir, Social Text,The Black Scholar, Journal of Palestine Studies, and Boston Review, at which he also serves as Contributing Editor.

Risa Morimoto was the founding Associate Director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute at NYU from its inception in 1996 to 2001.  She organized the first Asians in America Conference with Professor Eric Tang (who was then an undergrad) and other students. Its success led to the creation of the A/P/A Studies Program and Institute. After leaving NYU, she became an award-winning documentary and television producer and director. Some of her work includes Wings of Defeat (PBS) about kamikaze pilots who survived World War II and Broken Harmony about internet censorship and the cost of online activism in China, as well as directing over 200 episodes of House Hunters International. She often collaborates with SPICE (Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education) producing work on Vietnamese Americans, the Cambodian American experience, and the effects of the tsunami that devastated northern Japan in 2011.   

Ron Rapatalo’s career vision is coaching, connecting, and inspiring others to find their best selves through healthier living, increased mindfulness/interconnection, and stronger intention/strategy. He believes in the power of intuition and deepening one’s self-awareness and impact on others. He also believes that we must dismantle systems of oppression and racism to recover our fullest humanity. Rapatalo has been a talent shepherd for over fifteen years, recruiting and selecting thousands of candidates to become education and nonprofit leaders. He joined Edgility Consulting full-time in September 2018 after consulting with them and other search firms for more than four years.

Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu is professor in the NYU Department of Social & Cultural Analysis. She is the author of Experiments in Skin: Race and Beauty in the Shadows of Vietnam (Duke University Press, 2021) and The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion (Duke University Press, 2011). She is at work on a new research project, “The Chinese in Indian Land,” which examines the “insourcing” of textile manufacturing from China to the US south and considers how an imagination for rebuilding the US in the twilight of industrial society loops through and reworks traditional patterns of US-Asia relations.


Photograph by Corky Lee.