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THE CORNELL DAILY SUN | Wednesday, September 9, 2015 3


Prof. Chang Intertwines Upbringing With Studies By CHRISTOPHER BYRNS Sun Staff Writer

As Prof. Derek Chang, history and Asian American studies, sees it, race is at the heart of American society. For Chang, racial tensions underlie problems throughout American history. Focusing on black-white relations in the American south and Chinesewhite relations on the West Coast, Chang said he looks for similarities and differences in the way different regions treat race. “Race, at least from where I sit, is the central problem in American society,” Chang said. “Whether it’s slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement or immigrant rights, it seems to me to be at the center of everything.” Growing up Asian American, Chang said, exposed him to issues of race at a young age. According to Chang, these early experiences helped direct his interest towards a study of race relations. “A lot of [my interest] stemmed from growing up in a predominately white community and experiencing particular things that you don’t think about too much at that time but affect you in a particular kind of way,” Chang said. By the time Chang was an undergraduate, he said he found himself pulled towards history courses that dealt with race relations, especially courses in black history. Chang said courses on slavery especially resonated with him.


“I really gravitated toward black history and black studies because I knew it was different, and I knew I was different,” Chang said. Chang said college gave him a language and a vocabulary on race relations that he could use to identify his childhood experiences. After a brief stint as a paralegal, Chang found himself in graduate school. However, even in graduate school, Chang said he did not know if he truly wanted to become a historian. He said his graduate school experience was unordinary because he decided to take an extra couple of years to decide if it was right for him. “Rather than deciding I wanted to be a historian and then going to graduate school, I was looking for something to do and I ended up in graduate school,” Chang said. Chang said he wrote his dissertation on a group of Northern Baptist missionaries who went to the American South to work with former slaves and to the West Coast to work with Chinese immigrants. “I really got to the project by looking for sources that were available to me to tell me about Chinese immigrants in the 19th century or African Americans in the wake of the Civil War,” Chang said. “I realized it really told me a lot more about the missionaries themselves.” Chang said he was particularly drawn to missionaries because of the artifacts they left behind. With the historical record limited to freed slaves and Chinese immi-

grants, the missionaries provided a valuable source of documentation. “Missionaries, because they have lots of contact with those populations, produced a lot of documentation about them,” Chang said. In 2002, shortly after completing the dissertation — which he later published as his first book — Chang said he came to Cornell as a professor with a joint appointment to the history department and Asian American studies program. Chang said he sees particular value in the work of the Asian American studies program. Seeing the program as “crucial” for Asian American students and students of Asian descent, Chang says the program fulfills a particular need for students. “This space becomes a kind of safe space for students,” Chang said. “Our courses become a kind of place where students can sit and think and talk about questions that affect them that they cannot get elsewhere on campus.” In addition to the successes of the Asian American studies program, Chang said he feels proud of the graduate students he has worked with throughout his time at Cornell. “The graduate students with whom I have worked I think are across the board fantastic scholars, and I read their work and often I say, ‘This is so much better than anything I have ever done,’” Chang said. “I am in awe of them.” Besides his work in the history department and the Asian American studies program, Chang also spends his time working with a foundation that brings students from inner city schools to college. Through the POSSE Foundation, he selects students from Chicago Public Schools — Cornell’s partner city — to come to the University to study. “I am working with the second cohort to come through,” Chang said. “They are sophomores this year, and it’s a really fun program. Its demanding and challenging, but I was very pleased to be asked to be a mentor. Outside of the classroom, Chang said he enjoys both watching and playing soccer. A self-described “obsessive” fan, Chang roots for Liverpool, his favorite team, and finds time for the sport on the weekends. “I have coached kids for years, and I play a little bit,” Chang said. “Although, I am more enthusiastic than I am skilled.” Christopher Byrns can be reached at

Assemblyman Recounts Journey From Bronx to Gov’t Blake says vision, messaging enabled him to get ‘from no house to the White House’ By YUN SOO KIM Sun Staff Writer

Assemblyman Michael A. Blake (D79th District) spoke Tuesday at the Africana Studies and Research Center about how he went, in the words of his mother, “from no house to the White House.” Blake began his lecture, titled “I Listened to President Obama and Dreamed BIG Dreams,” by saying he believes that policy is relevant to all individuals in the United States. This ideal, he said, inspired his work in public service. “There is nothing you can think of that is not impacted by some form of policy in your life … federal or local,” he said. Blake said his background in journal-

ism taught him how to articulate a message, which has helped him achieve political success. “If you can’t articulate the message, you can’t articulate a vision,” he said. “If you can’t demonstrate your dreams, no one can dream those dreams … and there are a lot of people who can’t articulate their policies.” Blake said he can distill his strategy for bettering the community down to “three Es.” “This is how I help people realize their dreams ... the 3 E’s of economic development, education and equality for all,” he said. “Two of them have to pass to get those three E’s.” Blake, a native of the Bronx, explained his dreams for his home borough as well as the steps he plans to take in order to

turn his vision into reality. Security Council, asked President “My dream is transforming the Bronx Obama to “touch his hair” was a particto an urban metropolis ularly important of the world. … In moment in politics. “My dream is order to do that, you “Jacob processed in have to show people transforming the Bronx his mind of five years old that they can make that ‘you look like me, and to an urban metropolis .... happen,” Blake said. you’re the president, so I Blake said “real” legcan make it,’” Blake said. of the world.” islation is crucial to “The way [Jacob] had to Assemblyman Michael Blake process that was by achieving his dream. “How do you write a touching his hair.” legislation that’s real?” Blake said equal reprehe asked. “A lot of people don’t believe sentation in politics can instill hope in that legislation matters … they don’t aspiring leaders. think that what’s going with politics mat“It reminds you of what’s possible and ter and that they don’t impact your life.” … to pursue your dreams,” he said. Blake said he thought a time when Jacob Philadelphia, the son of a depart- Yun Soo Kim can be reached at ing staff member of the National

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