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Friday, May 24, 2024

UF professor spearheads Asian American studies minor

She’s taught at UF for more than 30 years

Malini Johar Schueller grew up in Chandigarh, India, a city north of New Delhi, the country’s capital. She came from a well-educated family who encouraged her to make a career out of literature.

“I was always fond of literature,” she said. “Pursuing it was an obvious choice.” 

Before teaching at UF, she received her master’s degree in English from Panjab University, India, in 1979. Her research interests include U.S. empire studies, Asian American studies, postcolonial theory, critical race theory and postcolonial women of color.

Now at UF, she is a UF professor and the faculty adviser for Students for Justice in Palestine and Sparks Magazine, an Asian American student-run magazine. 

Throughout her life, Schueller found different motivations that inspired her to learn, write and teach the importance of Asian American studies and other topics. Her motivations changed as she grew professionally, she said. 

As the only professor who teaches Asian American studies at UF, she became the coordinator of the minor given her passion and more than 20 years of experience.

In 2015, Schueller produced “In His Own Home,” a documentary based on a 2010 shooting at UF where campus police broke into the apartment of Ghanaian doctoral student Kofi Adu-Brempong and shot him in the face. 

The documentary won three separate awards, including Best Local Film at the Cinema Verde Film Festival in 2015. 

Schueller’s troubles with the current legislative season fuels her yearn for political change, she said.

Her passion led her to publish a book in 2019, “Campaigns of Knowledge.” The book discusses America’s colonization of the Philippines and Japan through re-education programs, which both nations resisted. The invasion of Iraq inspired her to write the book after she learned about the educational program the U.S implemented during the war.

She is currently working on her second book, titled “Solidarity Politics Through Critical Race Reading.” 

Schueller voiced concerns about Asian Americans being used as political pawns after Gov. DeSantis signed House Bill 1537 requiring Asian American and Pacific Islander history in the K-12 curriculum.

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“Asian Americans are being used and weaponized in a race war in America as potential model minorities just like they were in the ‘60s,” she said. “I just wonder whether it’s to draw [Asian Americans] into the Republican agenda.” 

Schueller believes it’s bizarre and cynical that Gov. Desantis signed House Bill 1537 when he also defunded DEI initiatives, she said. 

Schueller has taught at UF since 1986 and has never seen this level of interference in the curriculum that we are seeing now, she said. She believes students should organize protests and speak against hateful rhetoric.

“[Politicians] want a Disney version of American history,” Schueller said. “It’s really sad.” 

When she’s not writing books, Schueller keeps in touch with former students and aids them with their future career endeavors. 

Mya Guarnieri Jaradat, a UF alumna and Deseret Magazine journalist, took Schueller’s Asian American literature course focused on post-colonialism. 

“She molded me into the journalist I would become,” she said. “I learned so much about being a woman from her class.” 

The class offered different cultural frameworks with the right amount of guidance and space, she said.

“It got me thinking differently about oppression and system racism and how women are oppressed,” Jaradat said. “I grew so much intellectually.” 

The discussions Schueller presented in the class allowed Jaradat to think differently about her own privileges and learn more about other people’s struggles in regard to their identity, she said.

The class also touched on machismo, the association of toxic, strong or aggressive masculine pride within Hispanic culture. 

Jaradat has kept in touch with Schueller since she left UF and notes that while Schueller can be tough and blunt, it comes with love.

It will be a sad day when professor Schueller retires, she said. 

Schueller proudly identifies as Asian American, and that identity has given her a sense of community, she said. 

“I see an impact in that collectivity,” Schueller said. “We’ll always be seen as foreigners, but it’s nice to have commonalities.” 

Contact Vivienne at Follow her on Twitter @vivienneserret.

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Vivienne Serret

Vivienne Serret is a UF journalism and criminology senior, reporting for The Alligator's university desk as the student government reporter and managing editor for The Florida Political Review. She loves debating, lifting at the gym and singing.

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