IU associate history professor Ellen Wu was named a 2022 New America National Fellow Sept. 21. The renowned fellowship opportunity will support Wu’s newest research.
Wu said she will use the fellowship to advance her study of Asian American history, specifically researching race and immigration in U.S. history. She said she is working on a new book, called “Overrepresented: The Surprising History of Asian Americans and Racial Justice,” to answer questions on where Asian Americans fit in U.S. society regarding issues of racial justice.
“This particular year has been unprecedented in Asian American history, or let's just say U.S. history, in the amount of attention that people have been giving to Asian Americans,” Wu said. “I feel like I have something I want to say about how looking at history can help us make sense of our current moments.”
Wu is one of 15 fellows from nearly 400 applications selected by New America to receive funding for projects contributing to conversations on today’s most pressing issues.
Wu said her project builds off of her award-winning 2014 book, “The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority,” which tells how Asian Americans went from being stereotyped as immigrants threatening Western society to well-assimilated, successful minorities today. Her new book studies how the ramifications of this stereotype help to uphold white supremacy and hinder social change.
Wu said the timing of her project is important as Asian Americans are facing increased hostility during the pandemic. She said she also hopes to contribute to the wider public conversation on racial justice, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We live in a country that is so built around this divide between white and Black, so what is difficult is trying to understand where one fits in when you're neither white nor Black,” she said. “That is a question I think a lot of people try to tackle, and I'm going to try to do it through history.”
Wu said her experience as an Asian American woman makes her gravitate toward telling marginalized people’s stories.
“My parents were immigrants — so I think growing up in a world where that mattered in the sense that our family seemed kind of different than a lot of families I encountered — I think that feeling of not always quite feeling at home sensitized me to feelings or treatment of being strange or different,” Wu said.
IU graduate student Sydney-Paige Patterson, a former student of Wu, said Wu’s teaching and mentorship made history more accessible to her students.
“It made me feel welcome in her class to know that we were reading not just about one group of people, but seeing U.S. history from all sides,” she said. “Dr. Wu is a wonderful and brilliant woman and scholar. I’m grateful to have her as a mentor.”
IU graduate student Stephanie Nguyen said Wu is not only her mentor but also a key subject in her dissertation.
Nguyen's dissertation researches the history of Asian American studies at IU, including the story of Wu’s time as an IU student. Nguyen said Wu and a coalition of student activists successfully lobbied IU for the creation of the Asian Culture Center, more ethnic studies courses and funding for diversity initiatives in the 1990s.
Wu’s research, advocacy and teaching have left a lasting impact on IU, Nguyen said. She said sharing Wu’s story as a student activist inspires and empowers current IU students.
“She really, truly puts a lot of passion not only in her research but making her community strong,” Nguyen said. “She makes you feel like you belong at Indiana University.”