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The Legacy of the UT 10 and the Fight for Ethnic Studies

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Written by Samia Arni

Graphic by Gracelyn Prom

On May 3rd, 1999, ten students at UT (Shomial Ahmed, Kathleen Feyh, Elisa Won-Yun Shzu, Jamie Munkatchy, Linta Varghese, Sarah Looney, Junaid Rana, Stephen Ward, Gina Velasco, Peter Haney) were arrested during an 80-person sit-in to support the creation of the Asian American Studies program on campus. Later dubbed the UT-10, they ultimately succeeded, as the Center for Asian American Studies was established later that year. Though their impact has been immense, their act of resistance is one of the many displays of student activism that few people know about.

The effort first started in 1995, when students formed an organization called the Asian American Relations Group in order to campaign for the department. By then, there had been a long effort to get ethnic studies departments around the country, starting with the Third World Liberation Front strikes in California. At the time of those initial brutal protests at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley in 1969, the idea of ethnic studies was one of radical origins; the belief that students of color should have a higher education beyond a Eurocentric lens was not accepted. Even after these protests eventually succeeded in establishing other ethnic studies departments, the idea of a specific Asian studies focus was rather uncommon. The faculty didn’t see the point of having one, due in part to the lower number of Asian American students and an alleged “lack of history.” One Daily Texan Columnist even wrote that the experiences of Asian Americans could be summed up in a “single elective.”

That sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth: in fact, some even argue that the concept of “Asian American Studies” is far too broad to encompass enough of our experiences. However, despite its flaws, the discipline still carries immense value. For far too long, our history has been ignored and disregarded as insignificant, and having this department allows our experiences and contributions to be recognized and acknowledged.

Because of the tireless effort of these students, the University of Texas is the only school in the South that has an Asian Studies department to document our rich histories, and of all the schools in the country with an Asian Studies program, few are as robust as ours. Despite this, these programs still continue to be under attack, as they are often the ones to bear the brunt of budget cuts. Even then, our school is one of the luckier ones. Students from other universities are still fighting for programs like ours to be included in their curriculums.

Whether you plan on majoring in Asian Studies, take classes related to the field, or even disagree with the concept’s implementation, it's important for us to acknowledge our history and learn from movements of the past. Progress comes as a result of the countless efforts of the people who were fed up with the system and made sacrifices to make things better for the people who came after them. Regardless of the flaws of modern academia, these acts of resistance demonstrate that even when we feel like our efforts are futile, us students have the power to change the system. It may require patience, sacrifice, and a refusal to remain complacent, but progress has happened before, and through effective mass-organizing like that of the past, it can happen again.


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