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Statement to Stanford Faculty Senate

· Campaign,Stanford

The following statement by Save Cantonese was read by the ASSU Executive to the Faculty Senate during their May 20 session. ASSU had been invited to speak because the ASSU Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council had unanimously passed a Joint Resolution calling for the restoration of Cantonese to its historical level of four quarters taught by a full-time, salaried lecturer.


Faculty Senators:

Stanford undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni are deeply concerned about the decision to defund the Cantonese language program, which has served our Asian American and Asian community members, as well as the broader Stanford campus since 1997. We are also concerned about failure to consult the affected people throughout the process.

For twenty years, the Cantonese program was successful and an asset to Stanford: it facilitated research, medical care, alumni engineering, business, and civic engagement in the US and across the world and empowered students to access their heritage. The program was thriving, attracting a healthy number of students every quarter. In Fall 2020, it was one of the most popular languages taught by a single lecturer. Despite the University not allowing Cantonese to fulfill the language requirement, students continued to enroll year after year.

The elimination of the current full-time lectureship in Cantonese came as a shock. If Dr. Sik Lee Dennig, the instructor, who received her PhD from the Stanford School of Education, had not told her students about this decision, Cantonese would have simply disappeared from Stanford without any input from affected students and faculty.

When authorities claim that an Asian language isn’t worthy of being taught and silently remove it, they marginalize Asians on campus. By failing to recognize the diversity of Asian communities and erasing their culture, we encourage the forces that homogenize and dehumanize Asian people in this country, leading to political exclusion and physical violence. 

On one hand, the University issues placid statements of support for Asian Americans and surveys about “diversity and inclusion”—symbolic gestures that claim to support minorities. Yet simultaneously, Stanford is cutting the programs that actually serve Asian American communities. This is unconscionable.

In the famous photograph of the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, you will not see even one Asian face. Yet the labor of Asian immigrants—most of whom were Cantonese—was instrumental in building the railroads and later Stanford campus itself. Stanford University’s legacy is intertwined with the erasure of Asian people. Stanford must grapple with its history, and work actively to address this ongoing wrongdoing.

Decisions must be made with the consent of impacted communities—the administration must listen to the voices of Asian Americans and include them in the conversation. Stanford should be a leader in respecting, uplifting and celebrating Asian Americans’ contributions to this country—the most basic step is to invest in, rather than diminish, the programs that empower this diverse community.


The following two questions were intended to be raised at the meeting of the Faculty Senate, but were not verbalized:

Question to President Tessier-Lavigne

The President has called “on each of us to rededicate ourselves to...supporting our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community” as part of the Long Range Vision. To achieve the  “diversity and inclusion” outlined in the IDEAL initiative, can we find a way to sustain existing, successful programs with a proven track record of serving the Asian American community and fulfill a demonstrated demand by Asian American students? Besides new efforts under IDEAL, is there a way for Stanford to also affirm existing support for its minority students?


Question to Provost Drell, Dean Satz, and Director Bernhardt

Given that requests of students and advocates for meetings with the Language Center and the Provost have so far been declined, what concrete steps will you take to ensure affected communities are consulted in future decision-making? How can the University and the Language Center do better, by listening and incorporating feedback by the impacted community, before it makes these types of decisions?