After decades of advocacy from faculty, alumni, and students, the university has launched the Asian American Research Center at Stanford (AARCS) to connect and expand interdisciplinary research on Asian American issues occurring across campus. Housed in the School of Humanities and Sciences, the new center will provide a research home for faculty, students, and the public and support and expand Stanford’s scholarship on Asian Americans.

Generous gifts from a global community of donors, including alumnus Eric Ly, are providing funding for the new center, which was co-founded by H&S faculty Gordon H. Chang, Stephen Sano, and Jeanne Tsai. Chang, the Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities and a professor of history, will serve as the center’s inaugural director starting in fall 2024.

“Thanks to the faculty, alumni, and students who have long fought to advance Asian American studies, Stanford has evolved to understand the role it should and must play in building our knowledge about Asian Americans,” Chang said. “A research center at this university, in this area, has the potential to kick off a new wave of innovative, community-engaged research on Asian American issues.”

The history of Stanford University and its founders, Leland and Jane Stanford, is intertwined with Asian American populations and the Asian Pacific region. Chinese laborers played a major role in building the transcontinental railroad that established Leland Stanford’s fortune and, later, the university itself. Today, 27% of Stanford’s undergraduate population is Asian American.

“I am grateful to our phenomenal faculty and alumni community for standing up this important research center – I could not be more excited by the outpouring of support and great ideas,” said Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of H&S. “Long overdue, the center will focus research efforts on Asian Americans – their lives, histories, contributions, and struggles.”

Building momentum

A pivotal moment highlighting the need for Asian American studies at Stanford took place in 1989, when students held a peaceful sit-in in the president’s office. Among other demands, the students called for the creation of Latino/a and Asian American Studies programs. In response, the university hired Chang and David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor in H&S, to help establish Asian American Studies at Stanford.

Several years later, the university founded the Asian American Studies Program as part of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. But the mission to advance Asian American scholarship was not yet complete, according to Sano, the Harold C. Schmidt Director of Choral Studies, professor of music, and the current director of the Asian American Studies Program.

“The program primarily focuses on teaching undergraduates,” Sano said. “The center will enrich the existing program by fostering interdisciplinary research on Asian Americans. The two will have a symbiotic relationship.”

Tsai, now vice chair of the Department of Psychology in H&S, was a student at Stanford at the time of the 1989 sit-in.

“As a psychology major, I noticed that the field was supposed to be about all human behavior, but it focused primarily on Western theories and Western data,” Tsai said. “I wanted psychology to speak to my experiences as an Asian American.”

This led to her interest in the emerging field of cultural psychology and her work on cultural differences in emotional and behavioral norms.

In 2020, Stanford’s class of 1991 – which included Tsai and Ly – was planning its 30th reunion. Looking for a way to make a meaningful contribution to Stanford, Ly and other classmates remembered the sit-in. With anti-Asian violence spiking during those bleak days of the pandemic, their focus quickly turned to Asian American themes. They approached their classmate Tsai, who was then the faculty director of the Asian American Studies Program.

Tsai connected her classmates with Chang and Sano, and the plan for AARCS emerged. Generous alumni funding followed.

“Events in the world over the last few years have demanded that we think big,” said Ly, co-founder and CEO of KarmaCheck and a co-founder of LinkedIn. “By supporting this work at Stanford, we want to help lead a transformation of scholarship on Asian Americans that will affect how the U.S. thinks about Asian American experiences and contributions.”

Casting a wide net for the future

AARCS lays out an expansive approach to Asian American subject matter and will foster the study of Asian Americans and the Asian diaspora. It will support interdisciplinary research not only in H&S, but also in the schools of education, engineering, law, medicine, sustainability, and business. The center also aims to connect students and scholars with policymakers, cultural producers, and community members.

This winter, the center issued an inaugural call for seed grant applications. Applicants were asked to put forth ideas that address one of AARCS’ three areas of interest – research, education, and community outreach. The call received an energetic response, and AARCS awarded eight grants.

“It’s exciting to see the connections that our undergrads, grads, and faculty are making in the way they’re thinking in their research about what Asian America is,” Sano said.

AARCS is now developing program ideas for the next few years, such as convening public-facing conferences to address anti-Asian violence and bias that limit Asian Americans’ participation in leadership positions in business, higher education, and politics.

“There’s a public need that we are responding to, and we want the center to have a public-facing component as well,” Chang said. “It’s really important to go beyond the Stanford campus.”

Inaugural seed grant projects

The inaugural AARCS seed grants are funding the following projects:

Assistant Professor of Education Eujin Park will study how Asian American and Pacific Islander teacher candidates within a Bay Area teacher education program consider their racial identities as they prepare to become classroom teachers with social justice commitments.

The Center for South Asia will produce a working paper on South Asian American arts and build local networks through collaboration with the South Asian Literature and Arts Festival hosted at Stanford in September.

Education doctoral candidate Hannah D’Apice will conduct archival research at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University to compare the degree to which the universities’ Asian American Studies programs affected resources and inclusion in formal curricula.

Modern Thought and Literature doctoral candidate Jennifer Lee will study early American Korean-language periodicals housed at the University of Southern California to understand their role in shaping modern Korean and Korean American identities.

Education doctoral candidate Lillian Wolfe will study how female transracial Asian American adoptees’ connections to their birth cultures are affected by their adoptive parents’ cultural engagement styles.

English doctoral candidate Christine Xiong will conduct archival research at the National Archives at San Francisco and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa on the transpacific passages of “picture brides,” bridging Asian American literature with critical ocean studies.

Undergraduate American Studies major Alexandra Huynh will research how Vietnamese experiences of refugeehood contributed to the Vietnamese American community’s relationship with the U.S. criminal legal system.

Undergraduate Urban Studies major Kaelyn Wei-Min Ong will interview community development coordinators in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo to document how their conceptions of Asian American identity affect their community development work.

For more information

Learn more about the funded projects on the AARCS website. Questions about AARCS can be directed to

Joy Leighton, Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences:

Holly Alyssa MacCormick, Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences: