As a new academic year begins, I am deeply honored and excited to be taking on the role of faculty director of the Center for Asian Studies. A few months ago, many of us thought the COVID-19 pandemic was winding down. And then over the summer, India and Indonesia became new global hot spots, and as I write this, the US is also in the midst of a Delta variant surge. In the last few weeks, it has become clear that the virus is not yet done with the world. Nevertheless, with our campus community well vaccinated, the CAS office is open and staff including me are working onsite once again.
I first became involved with CAS in 2017, shortly after I joined the Sociology department here at CU Boulder. My academic interests include gender, religion, culture, globalization, and social change. I’m particularly interested in understanding how transnational processes such as economic development, social movements, and globalization are affecting gender norms and cultural practices, particularly in Muslim societies of Southeast Asia. I have been doing fieldwork in Indonesia since 2002, and my ethnographic research explores questions such as how changes in understandings of Islam and Islam’s growing role in political life have impacted gender norms and practices, the relationship between Islam and feminist movements, and how Islam shapes ideas about intimate relationships between men and women. Another project of mine examines the emergence of a dynamic contemporary art scene in the city of Yogyakarta. More recently, I’ve been studying the gendered consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, especially how it has impacted women’s work and careers, and I am hoping to expand this research to Indonesia, where women tend to work in more precarious economic sectors and also have especially heavy family care burdens.
As a sociologist, I am especially aware of the need to restore and renew our Asian studies community in the wake of 18 months that have been challenging in so many ways: frightening new health risks, isolation, increased care and emotional burdens, political unrest, and racist attacks against Asian-Americans and others. Although we plan to start the year with mainly virtual events, I remain hopeful that by the end of this academic year we can resume our lively schedule of in person events and reconnect with each other.
I am looking forward to continuing the terrific work done by previous CAS director Tim Oakes, who deserves huge credit for helping to make CAS one of the leading Asian Studies centers in the Rocky Mountain region. I am also immensely grateful to CAS staff, especially CAS Executive Director Danielle Rocheleau Salaz, CAS Event Coordinator Liza Williams, and former Asian Studies Program Director Lauren Yapp, who all have endeavored to continue CAS’s work during the pandemic, especially as most of our events and other offerings transitioned to being entirely remote during 2020. We aim to make CAS a draw for both undergraduate and graduate students, building on our core mission to provide as broad an array of students as possible with opportunities to engage with Asia and Asian studies.
This year’s theme is Intermountain Asia and we hope to better connect with our fellow Asianists nearby, and to cultivate a vision of Asian Studies that does not limit “Asia” to a distant place or an object of inquiry far removed from our everyday lives here in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region more broadly. During the 2021-22 academic year, we will feature events that speak to these themes, drawing on the wealth of Asian Studies expertise throughout our intermountain region and beyond. We are planning a broad array of events including lunch talks, speakers for both scholarly and more public events, a virtual fundraiser, and a faculty spotlight panel.
Although we are still in the planning stages for most of these, one event that is already on the books is a talk by former foreign service officer Dave Rank on US-China Relations in the Era of Xi Jinping, scheduled for Monday, November 5 at 5 pm. Additionally, the second of three workshops for the project, “A Tale of Two Asias: Living In and Beyond the Nuclear Age” will be happening in spring 2022. The deadline for abstract submissions is October 15. Please do keep an eye on our website and email list for more event announcements!
We are developing our Asian studies major with new instructors, including Lauren Collins, Tenzin Tsepak, and Akhmad Taufik, as well as exciting new classes and are working to recruit more majors and minors. Lauren Collins is our Asian Studies Program Director, teaching a busy schedule of classes and working to develop the curriculum. With our Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language grant from the US Department of Education, we hired Tenzin Tsepak as an instructor for Tibetan language and history/civilization classes. And our newest Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, Akhmad Taufik, is offering beginning and intermediate Indonesian language classes.
We also continue to develop internship and study abroad programs for undergraduates. This summer, due to the pandemic, we were able to offer a virtual version of our Asia Internship Program (AIP) with a company based in Japan, and we are hoping to expand our virtual offerings for next summer. We are excited about the new Li Seung and Wong Shee Li Endowed Support Fund, which will provide student scholarship support for the Asia Internship Program, and we are hopeful that the Tang Global Seminar will be able to resume in 2022. Beyond that, we hope to expand our internship offerings to other regions of Japan and China as well as to other countries such as Indonesia, where we have recently developed a student exchange program with Gadjah Mada University, expected to launch in 2022.
As you may be aware, CAS includes the Program for Teaching East Asia, which provides professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers and seeks to expand teaching and learning about East Asia in elementary and secondary schools, as well as the American Association of Teachers of Japanese, a professional organization for teachers of the Japanese language. TEA Director Lynn Parisi and AATJ Director Susan Schmidt and their staff members have continued their work during the pandemic and their outreach efforts are an important aspect of CAS.
I look ahead to working with all of you in the broader Asian studies community, both at CU Boulder and beyond, especially as the pandemic eventually draws to a close and a return to in-person events is on the horizon. I’m eager for your ideas and suggestions.
If you would like to support what we do, please consider a donation to CAS. It’s an easy click from our homepage, or visit www.colorado.edu/cas/support-cas.
Associate Professor of Sociology
Photo of Rachel taken by Dennis McGilvray