navigating activist memory

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navigating activist memory a zine on Asian/American student organizing for Asian American Studies at Duke

Introduction Duke students, faculty, and staff and Durham community members have continued to face the university's consistent marginalization of working-class communities of color. Our university prides itself on "progress" and "diversity," seen through task forces, public statements, and curated websites throughout the years. However, many of these surface-level actions have resulted in no material changes, as proven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple precarious situations that marginalized students find themselves in today. Through tracing and navigating activist memory, we can find ways to better organize ourselves with understanding how past efforts and movements persist and (re-)emerge in the present. We can use the past to (re)imagine and (re)build the future. This zine is a companion to my thesis, "Even if the Institution Forgets, We Remember: How Activist Memory Drives Duke Asian/American Student Organizing." With my senior thesis, I always had intentions to contribute to an activist memory that lives long beyond my time as an undergraduate student in hopes of inspiring students who seek to find refuge within this predominantly white institution, to hold the university accountable for its harms, and to learn from our mistakes and celebrations. The written, academic thesis certainly does that. But who has time to read 100+ pages? :) With intentions of making activist memory accessible and to pay homage to the collaborative processes that have led to this entire project (because without students’ relationships to one another, there is no passing down of activist memory), I created this zine, Navigating Activist Memory: a zine on Asian/American student organizing for Asian American Studies at Duke. With the support and audio work of Elizabeth Lee (class of 2021), throughout this zine, you'll find links to audios lifted from oral history interviews of alumni speaking. You can find all audios (including some not in the zine) here: It is their voices that are the foundation to my thesis and zine. in solidarity, shania khoo p.s. but if you want to read the thesis you can find it here: khooactivistmemory, and a digital version (with clickable links) of this zine an be found at:



table of contents theoretical framework timeline of Asian American Studies at Duke bingo! I have bingo! calculating the costs a tarot for the future how to organize (tbh idk either) remember your dailiy to-dos dedicated to

5 6 20 21 22 24 30 31

Theoretical Framework Because of the combination of the shortterm memory of individual students and the selective institutional memory of the university, student organizing is a particularly insightful space to address the gaps in knowledge and understanding of contemporary Asian/ American student organizing in universities and colleges. This zine was created with the intentions of maintaining and passing down activist memory, a term I use in my thesis to describe how students recover, interact, and build on the archives in order to ground their place within campus and activist history and to make sense of the feelings and emotions associated with campus organizing. The archives include the tangible meeting notes, planning documents, and other organizational records and ephemera and the intangible oral traditions, stories, and advice that have been passed down as new Asian/American students enter into organizing spaces and groups like the Duke Asian American Studies Working Group (AASWG). Activist memory is not the retelling of static, unchanging pasts, but foregrounds how current student organizers are recovering, engaging with, and diverging from memories in order to chart a course for holding university institutions accountable for past harm in hopes of promoting healing and organizing in the present and future. Understanding how activist memory is both recovered and utilized shifts how we can understand the ways remembrance and forgetting, both individual and collective, help constitute Asian American political conscientization and organizing. (adapted from pg. 8-9, Introduction)





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2020 2021 In spite of a global pandemic, students in AASWG continued to meet regularly online and attempted to maintain semblances of community throughout 2020 to 2021. AASWG leaned into creating alternative spaces, trying to figure out alternatives to in-person community building and political education in digital third spaces, such as Margins, an Asian/American publication, and the bAASement, a podcast. The pandemic has been accompanied by an increase in racial violence targeting Asian people in the United States. Because of this increased violence and national discourse, there was extraattention from administration Asian/American student organizations. Following the Georgia parlor shootings on March 16, 2021, the lack of action from Duke institutionally combined with the hypervisibility on and action expected of Asian student organizations to do things led to the release of Demands from Duke Asian Students on March 21, 2021 in the form of a letter and petition to President Price, the Board of Trustees, and other high-level administration. A majority of the demands were written by students who had come before us. It is precisely because of AASWG’s oral traditions, extensive archive, and consistent gestures and acknowledgements of past students’ efforts that the 2021 demands were able to be written in such a short time. Following these demands, the student organizations involved in writing created Mobilizing Asian Students Together (MAST), Duke’s first coalition of Asian student organizations in hopes of maintaining momentum and building capacity for other and future students to sustain our movement.

19 MAST engaged with in a lot of meetings with various administrative members, including then Assistant Vice President for Intercultural Programs Li-Chen Chin, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Shruti Desai Associate Dean of Students Clay Adams, and Director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards Jeanna McCullers. However, many of these administrative meetings led to little or no material changes to Duke University, and instead pointed us to meetings with other administrative members, who would also point us towards more administrative members. We relied heavily on how previous students had approached demands and it limited how we imagined organizing. With the landscapes of student life and organizing drastically changing with the pandemic, using activist memory to recover and repeat organizing strategies became less useful in navigating these new contexts. As a result of exhaustion and burnout, MAST ultimately stops meeting by the start of Spring 2022, as even the most-committed students found themselves too tired to continue.

As a result of efforts of student organizing groups like AASWG and MAST, on February 3, 2022, the Trinity Arts and Sciences Council approved the Asian American and Diaspora Studies (AADS) minor, marking the official establishment of a degree program in Asian American Studies at Duke. The announcement of the AADS minor arrived on the 20-year anniversary of when Asian/American students officially proposed and demanded the establishment of an Asian American Studies Department during a teach-in in 2002. The decades-long history of Asian/American students organizing for Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Duke has resulted in transformations in Duke’s academic landscape, including the minor, the development of new courses, and the hiring of multiple tenure-track AADS professors. It has been a long time coming, driven by the organizing of demands and petitions directed to university administration, campaigns to inspire student involvement, and political education to create our own spaces to learn across multiple generations of students.


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complete this bingo with the various sets of demands from Asian students spanning the past two decades. you can find them all linked in the most recent demands written and released by Duke Asian students in March 2021:


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for the future of student organizing at duke the tower: change, upheaval, chaos, revelation, awakening

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change is here to tear things up, create chaos and destroy everything in its path (for the better). let this tower self-destruct so we can rebuild.


the tower will one day topple... THE TOWER

...with the support of the high priestess.

23 II




high priestess: intuition, sacred knowledge, divine feminine, the subconscious mind intuitive sense provides useful information to become more in touch with our subconscious minds. knowledge of how to fix issues will not come through only thinking and rationalizing and strategizing, but by also tapping into and trusting your intuition.

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something awful happens

wake up in the morning for an 8:30 am class you regret signing up for. while getting ready, read your school's news, catch up on twitter, or speed through people's instagram's stories; whatever your favorite form of doomscrolling is. find out that something awful has happened. racist epithets. homophobic slurs. slashes in funding for marginalized communities. white supremacist symbols. take your pick, they've all happened. your day is ruined.

STEP TWO: frustration bubbles

ask yourself: "how could this happen?'" *answer: the conditions of the university allowed it to.

"it's 2022, how is [insert incident] still happening"

**trick question: progress has nothing to do with linear time.

at this point, your phone should be blowing up with messages from friends and group chats, outraged, upset, scared, frustrated. NOTE: if you have no notifications, no questions, no feelings, skip directly to step six.



STEP THREE: direct action

in hopes for [awful incident] to never happen again, you and other students write demands, open letters, petitions; organize rallies, protests, demonstrations, sitins, teach-ins. create, plan, and organize anything to make other students, faculty, and university administration pay attention, to realize that the university must change. ***anything to make this place more survivable.***



meetings w/ people in power meet with people who have power to shift the funding, resources, and direction of the university, present them your demands, and ask for specific steps of how they can be achieved. NOTE: sometimes they will tell you that they personally do not have the power, but perhaps someone they direct you to will have power. it is best to get these things out of the way sooner or you will end up on a wild goose chase.


STEP FIVE: (promise of) change comes! once enough pressure has been applied in the right places, way too meetings have happened, and the issues raised can no longer be swept under the rug, (the promise of) change comes! take time here to celebrate, this step is often forgotten. NOTE: oftentimes this change is a huge compromise from original demands, actually just lip service, and/or not even close to what students asked for at all. if so, repeat steps 3-5 until desired results, or if resources are depleted, continue to step 6.

STEP SIX: run out

run out of time, energy, people, and patience. grow far too tired from everything else you have to do as a marginalized student at a predominantly white institution. slowly stop responding to emails regarding demands. think up projects and actions that never get done. gradually see meetings dwindle in numbers. say goodbye to graduating seniors.


STEPrepeat SEVEN: During my four years at Duke, I witnessed, experienced, and took part of this cycle multiple times as we tried to hold this institution accountable for past and ongoing harms to marginalized students, faculty, staff, and community members. There have been moments and accomplishments worth celebrating (the AADS minor in 2022, the establishment of AAPI BASE and La Casa in 2016, the establishment of Wekit in 2019, to name a few). But most of all, I saw my friends and peers burn out, quit organizing, lose hope, and wither away. They are not ok. I am not ok. And yet, we kept repeating the cycle because we knew nothing else. I wonder a lot about how to break out of this, and whether or not these are new feelings, these feelings of tiredness, hopelessness, and inability when it comes to student organizing. Did these feelings sink into students that organized following the racist Asia Prime party? (likely yes, according to the archives) What did they do? Where did they go? What do we do? Where do we go? When I first encountered the archives of student organizing, my instincts were to look for strategies that worked in the past, administrative members past students talked to, and records detailing organization structures. I assumed that with this knowledge, current students would be able to achieve material changes faster, and so the cycle would end sooner. However, what I found to be more grounding was how older students and alumni would tell me their feelings, copings, dreams, and hopes surrounding the university. I was told to center the present, to not get caught up in bureaucracy and promises, and to not do too much. The Asian American Studies Working Group has been my (political) home for the past four years. In it are people who care for me, current students, and our four years at Duke, but we never lose sight of the longer lineages between past and future student organizing that we bridge. hear more from alum:

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this zine is dedicated to students: the agitators, the dreamers, the organizers.