AADS Reaches a Key Milestone with a Permanent Home for the Program

Friedl building
Friedl Building, East Campus. (Photo courtesy Bill Snead / University Communications and Marketing)

In the Spring of 2024, the Asian American Diaspora Studies (AADS) program finally acquired a permanent space in Friedl 120 as part of the larger goal to institutionalize and strengthen AADS at Duke. 

Esther Lee, the current Director of AADS and a Frances Hill Fox Professor of Theater Studies, spearheaded the effort. 

The process for securing a permanent space for AADS has been “long and challenging,” Dr. Lee remarked in an interview. 

One issue was the confusion around AADS’s mission. Initially AADS was in the Bryan Center as part of the Center of Multicultural Affairs and their minority student programming. “The location of the program confused many because AADS is an academic unit and CMA is a student affairs unit. I don’t know why it was decided that AADS would be there in the first place…” Lee stated. Logistically it did not make sense as well. “It was already too small for student organizations.” 

The goal of AADS is to provide an academic, critical space that intentionally sustains and centers not only Asian American thought but also provides a space for Asian/American studies for students and professors alike.

“AADS is already a leading program in the US Southeastern region, and I hope AADS will continue to present a broader vision for the field as a whole,” said Lee. 

The labor that Lee has undertaken joins the long history of labor by other academics in institutionalizing and strengthening AADS. 

In 2021, AADS was able to rent an office in Friedl, but it was not a permanent space. 

Currently, it’s used by the AADS staff on a renewal basis. 

“My predecessor, Aimee Kwon, made many efforts to secure a permanent space on campus as the inaugural director of AADS, and the two of us worked together to convince the Deans of our needs. Dean William Johnson was, in particular, supportive of AADS and was able to secure an office for AADS. We all agreed that the ideal location would be in Friedl,” Lee shared.  

The significance of Friedl cannot be overstated. As stated in this 2021 article about the first office space, the Friedl building is named in honor of Ernestine Friedl, who transitioned in 2015 and was the first woman dean of Trinity College. Friedl worked hard in diversifying the academy and the humanities at large at Duke.

Friedl is also home to the African & African American Studies department, the Cultural Anthropology department, and the Latino/a Studies in the Global South program

Given this history, Lee jumped at the opportunity once Friedl 120 became available in summer of 2023, and room 120 finally became the permanent space for AADS. “We were able to clean it up and fill it with new furniture. Given the history of the building and the academic units it houses, I am glad that AADS is able to have a place there,” Lee said. 

The AADS resource room is just the beginning, however. Lee was confident and hopeful in AADS next direction.

“Going forward, it would be ideal to acquire a larger space for the greater AADS community. Duke does not have a center for Asian American students, which is common at most peer institutions, and institutional support for Asian American students is vastly lacking despite over 30% of the undergraduate population that identifies as Asian or Asian American. This makes the acquisition of a permanent space for AADS even more significant,” Lee said.

Lee ended her interview by underscoring and situating the importance of AADS. “This is important because AADS is not just for Asian American students; it’s for all students at Duke. 

We cannot understand the U.S. without knowing Asian American history and culture. My wish is for all Duke students to take AADS classes and to enhance their education regardless of their background and the careers they choose to pursue.”

Please join us on April 2nd at Friedl 120 for AADS Open House, celebrating the newly acquired room! Free snacks and Boba provided!