Lisa Trivedi.
Lisa Trivedi, the Christian A. Johnson Excellence in Teaching Professor of History, is one of the authors of a $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation for a three-year ASIANetwork’s AAPI Voices and Stories Community-based Digital Storytelling Project Pilot. Here, Trivedi talks about the project.

What is the goal of Voices and Stories?
The project intends to foster belonging for our neighboring Asian American Pacific Islander communities, and it provides students and faculty of our member institutions with experience in assisting AAPI community story-telling and enhancing curriculum.

How did this project come about?
In the spring of 2020 when the United States witnessed a surge of anti-Asian violence, faculty with ASIANetwork convened a working group that undertook common readings and course development. Out of this [came] an effort to create a project through which faculty and students could collect community oral histories about their experiences in diverse U.S. regions. ASIANetwork faculty, who are trained as specialists of Asian societies, saw a role for themselves in facilitating a sense of belonging among Asians who have made their home in the United States.

This January, members of ASIANetwork’s development team, including myself, met with program officers at Mellon. Over the summer, we worked with program officers to refine the proposal that was ultimately funded. 

How long/in what capacity have you worked with ASIANetwork?
I joined ASIANetwork shortly after I started teaching at Hamilton. After participating in the annual conference, I was invited to join its board, serving from 2007-10. In 2011, I assumed the role of [co-] editor for the organization’s peer-reviewed journal, ASIANetwork Exchange. After seven years, we established an Open Access book series with Lever Press/University of Michigan Publishing in 2019.

What was the Mellon Foundation’s interest in pursuing this project and making this large a grant? 
As I understand it, the Mellon Foundation had already pivoted in its own work in ways that aligned with changes in ASIANetwork’s priorities. That is, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the social unrest that followed, Mellon renewed its own commitment, redoubled its efforts, at funding projects with immediate community effect. They had for some time been interested in forging relationships between liberal arts colleges and R1 institutions, and shifted to emphasize bridging the gap between civil society and academia. .

The size of the grant reflects the nature of our organization. We aren’t a single small college but a consortium of 145+ colleges with Asian Studies programs. By funding this work through ASIANetwork, Mellon has a trusted partner with a 30-year track record including institutions, faculty, and students nationwide. If this pilot is successful, we hope to pursue a larger grant so that the model can be implemented in communities across the country. Our students and faculty could make an enormous contribution to facilitating understanding of Asian culture and people in the U.S.

What type of opportunities will there be for faculty and students who work with community organizations?
Campuses whose faculty already have an established relationship with an Asian American community organization, or individuals in their vicinity, should consider applying to become one of the Mellon-funded sites. Given Hamilton’s historical ties to the refugee communities in Utica, the College is well-positioned to become one of ASIANetwork’s AAPI Voices and Stories sites. Students interested in DEI and accessibility work, regardless of their concentration, will benefit from this direct engagement.

In summary, two selected sites each year (six unique sites during the pilot) carry out a seven-week summer project. The first four weeks consist of Voices and Stories collaboration with the community followed by three weeks of collaborative digital product development and preparation into its desired form. The pilot supports summer projects for faculty-student teams (one faculty member and four students) working with community partners near selected campuses, each joined by a faculty associate from another ASIANetwork institution. All participants receive training in ethics, collaborative approaches, and technical skills.

Students and faculty will be funded by the grant to work with a community organization over the summer, much as our Emerson and Levitt summer research programs work. They will also have the opportunity to present about work they do, with the permission of the community, at our annual conference. We hope that both research and pedagogical papers will be published through our scholarly journal or other venues. We view the products of this engagement as belonging to the AAPI community itself and so the grant supports creation and maintenance of digital archiving. However, we hope that some of the outcomes of this collaboration will also be preserved through scholarship and teaching materials developed by faculty and students. These outcomes can be archived via Hamilton’s institutional repository and therefore accessible to a much wider audience.

Who does the group intend to interview for the oral histories? Where will these live? We hope to engage Asian Americans whose families have been in the United States for generations and those who are refugees or recent immigrants themselves. AAPI Voices and Stories isn’t exclusively an oral history project, although we certainly expect that interviews of community members will be an important aspect of our work. Perhaps communities will want to tell their stories through assembly of key recipes or cultural expressions. We can imagine family histories through photography and any number of other forms of self-expression (art, music, poetry, etc).

What are the locations where participants work on this?
The leadership team will solicit applications from ASIANetwork institutions across the country. Two pilot projects will run concurrently during the three summer pilot programs (2024-25; 2025-26; 2026-27). Participants will work in proximity to an ASIANetwork campus in community organizations or with AAPI individuals who are in the process of working toward a community group.

What do you hope that participants come away with?
We think of this as a project with four distinct kinds of participants, all of whom will come away from the project with different things.

  • AAPI community organizations: We hope that the grant will support a process by which their relationships to one another are strengthened and they gain a greater sense of belonging in the city or region in which they live. Identifying local institutions or mechanisms that can facilitate that belonging, like a local museum or city office that can be a long-term partner, would be part of this.
  • Institutions: We hope to encourage greater ties between AAPI communities and the liberal arts colleges in their midst. We hope that campuses will host events and provide opportunities to collaborate. We’d like the AAPI community to know that they have a home on our campuses and for our campuses to make themselves hosts to the community.
  • Faculty: We hope they will apply their expertise in the study of Asian societies to their Asian neighbors in the U.S. Enabling faculty to develop capacity in the field of Asian American Studies is a long-term goal. Eventually, we hope that ASIANetwork faculty will be able to offer their students courses that attend to Asian culture and society not only in Asia but in the United States.
  • Students: We hope that the experience of working directly with the AAPI community will encourage them to pursue work after graduation with community and civic effect. We’d like to provide our liberal arts students with skills that will translate into lives of meaningful contribution to society.

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