UT-Austin community petitions to restart Vietnamese language classes

Andrew Zhang

Although Vietnamese is the third-most spoken language in Texas, UT has not offered classes for the language since spring 2010. Some community members want the classes back on the course schedule, as a petition urging UT to fund Vietnamese language classes has accumulated more than 300 signatures in a week.

The petition, addressed to Daniel Jaffe, interim executive vice president and provost, Donald R. Davis Jr., department of Asian studies professor and chair, and others, asks UT to help create Vietnamese language classes with additional funding to the Department of Asian Studies or an endowment. 

The petition also asks for the creation of a permanent Vietnamese research position so the program is not at risk of being cut again. Additionally, the petition requests UT create future courses focusing on Vietnamese culture and Southeast Asian languages and cultures. 

“As noted in the petition, budgetary and programmatic limits forced the difficult decision to stop the Vietnamese program,” Davis said in an email. “Unfortunately, the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis only make the budgetary situation worse, and the short-term prospects for reinstating Vietnamese are not good.”

Davis said expanding Southeast Asian studies to offer more variety in courses on culture and history is “regrettably unrealistic in the current environment,” but a concerted effort to reestablish language courses could facilitate a broader expansion in the future.

 

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Biochemistry senior Tracy Nguyen, who signed the petition, said having Vietnamese classes would help her and other students understand their cultural heritage.

“I’m conversationally fluent (in Vietnamese), like I can speak to my parents,” Nguyen said. “But when it comes to reading and writing, I’m screwed. But I would really love to have that part of being Vietnamese.”

Nguyen said she thinks having Vietnamese in the curriculum would also help cement the presence of Vietnamese culture on campus.

“To see Vietnamese not represented in our curriculum, but seeing (other languages have) so many classes that so many people can participate in and learn, it’s like, ‘Why can’t we also get that?’”  Nguyen said. “We grew up in America, but … there’s only so much we learn from our parents.”

Petition creator Adebayo Gbakinro said he started doing research on the history of Vietnamese classes at UT after he wondered why they were not offered.

“We have a ton of language programs here, but we don’t have Vietnamese,” said Gbakinro, a computer science, Spanish and French senior. “I found out that around 2010, UT actually cut Vietnamese from the University due to budget cuts against student advocacy. I was like, ‘Why not try and get it back?’”

Gbakinro said he met with Davis, who mentioned creating a petition to collect student interest. 

David Ochsner, director of public affairs for the College of Liberal Arts, said in an email that the college supports adding Vietnamese classes in the future if there is student demand, but would have to consider available budgetary resources.

UT alumna Katrina Tran said having Vietnamese classes would reflect the growing Vietnamese community on campus and in Austin. 

“It’d be nice to go back to the University and say … ‘I’m so proud to be coming from a university that kind of recognizes my culture,’” Tran said.