University of Wisconsin established the first tenure-track teaching position in Hmong American Studies in the nation earlier this year, pioneering the new area of study.
Dr. Yang Sao Xiong will hold the first tenure-track teaching post in Hmong American studies, according to a UW statement. Hmong American studies will be an addition to UW’s Asian American Program and the School of Social Work, the statement said.
The development was the result of high interest in the subject by student and community groups in Madison, Xiong said.
The Hmong community is one of the largest minority groups in Wisconsin, Xiong said. This fact and an increasing number of Hmong students at UW, a strong interest in the introduction of Hmong American studies became clear, he said.
The leadership of UW was “extremely supportive” in the process and the faculty as a whole contributed to the success of the project, Xiong said.
“Educators began to see that Asian American studies could include Hmong classes,” Xiong said. “This is part of a long social movement beginning at least 10 years ago.”
Dr. Timothy Yu, the Director of Asian American studies, said UW decided to add the course due to the recognition of Hmong American studies as a growing field in academia and as a way of adhering to the mission of the university.
Yu said he and his department are very excited to have Xiong as an addition to the faculty.
“[The Hmong community] is a very significant part of state and university, and this course is a way of fulfilling the university’s mission of serving the state,” Yu said.
Xiong said his class will tie the story of the social movement of the Hmong American people, especially in Wisconsin, to parallels in other social movements that have occurred throughout history. The Hmong community recognized a social problem and came together in an attempt to overcome the problem through the education and empowerment of its people, he said.
Dr. Lynet Uttal, former director of Asian American studies said hiring Xiong as a tenure-track professor was an important decision for the university as it paves the way for further education in the subject of Hmong American studies and race relations in general.
Uttal said this progress is somewhat unique to UW, but there are efforts nationwide to increase the prominence of Hmong American studies courses in higher education. The future will likely see other universities following suit and including the subject in their program, especially in areas where Hmong American communities are most concentrated, he said.
Xiong said he hopes other departments at UW and other institutions will incorporate similar courses in the future, as the interest in Hmong culture and Hmong Americans in academia continues to grow.
“There are many opportunities for other universities,” Xiong said. “Hopefully other institutions will incorporate similar programs in the future.”