Director's Welcome

Welcome to Asian American and Diaspora Studies Program (AADS) at Duke.

Esther Kim Lee

AADS was established after decades of student demand for an academic unit devoted to the study of Asian Americans, and one of my top priorities as the Director is to honor that history by expanding curricular offerings in Asian American Studies. Courses offered by AADS are open to all Duke students, and I hope our courses will enrich everyone’s education no matter what background they may have. In February of 2022, a new minor in AADS was established, and students are welcome to contact me to learn more about the minor.

At its core, the field of Asian American Studies includes studies of people of Asian descent in the U.S. in terms of their histories, experiences, and cultural expressions, but Asian American Studies can also be utilized as a method of critique that examines broader topics of empire, settler colonialism, race, gender, indigeneity, war, and transnationalism. It is in this sense at the program includes the term “diaspora.” It underscores the global interconnectedness of people, culture, and capital and invites relational work within and beyond the U.S.

At Duke, 30% of students identify as Asian or Asian Americans, and the 2020 Census shows that people of Asian descent continue to be the fastest growing population in the U.S. Just as we cannot understand U.S. history without studying Asian American history, I believe that we must invest in the research and teaching of the complexities of Asian America at our current moment to be prepared for our collective future.

From its beginning, Asian American Studies has been about coalition building, and my goal as the Director of AADS is to build new coalitions at Duke and in the region. Together, we can be at the forefront of creating new knowledge in and beyond the field and help shape the broader intellectual trajectory in the next decades. I invite you to join us in these conversations by taking our classes, attending our events, and supporting us. I can’t wait to see what we will build together.


Esther Kim Lee
Director of Asian American & Diaspora Studies
Professor of Theater Studies and International Comparative Studies