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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Welcome Dr. Sơn Ca Lâm to the Asian American Studies program

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A table of posters and memorabilia set up at the welcome event for Dr. Son Ca Lam, UMass Boston’s new Asian American Studies professor. Photo by Michelle Dang / Mass Media Staff.

Enthusiastic applause filled the Campus Center Alumni Lounge as students, faculty and invited alums gave a warm welcome to the newest assistant professor in the Asian American Studies program, Dr. Sơn Ca Lâm.

A UMass Boston alumna herself, Dr. Lâm was homegrown in the Asian American Studies Program, pursuing it along with an individual major in Comparative Ethnic Studies. Guests viewed Dr. Lâm’s old photos, portfolios and projects from her time at UMass Boston near the entrance of the lounge.

After earning both her bachelor’s and master’s at UMass Boston, Dr. Lâm taught her first class in the summer of 2013 as an adjunct instructor for the Asian American Studies Program. She continued to periodically teach classes at UMass Boston until Spring 2020.

Now, Dr. Lâm returns to her alma mater for a full-time teaching position starting in the Fall 2024 Semester. Dr. Lâm will be the first full-time Vietnamese American Studies professor in the Asian American Studies Program. She is slated to teach the courses ASAMST 294: Resources for Vietnamese American Studies and ASAMST 223: Asians in the U.S.

The reception started with introductions from senior Holly Nguyen, President of the UMass Boston Vietnamese Student Association—which co-sponsored the event alongside the Asian American Studies Program—and Dr. Peter Kiang, Director of Asian American Studies.

Through a heartfelt recount of her experiences as a Vietnamese American from Fields Corner, Nguyen expressed her gratitude that future generations of Vietnamese American students at UMass Boston will be able to connect to a Vietnamese American professor in the program.

Dr. Kiang conveyed a similar sentiment. He highlighted the importance of representation in the program.

“I have been seeking an assistant professor for Vietnamese American diaspora in Asian American Studies from UMass Boston for years,” he said.

After many years, Dr. Kiang’s hopes came to fruition and a search committee was developed to look at candidates nationwide for the position. This search committee consisted of Asian American Studies Endowed Distinguished Professor Dr. Shirley Tang, Asian American Studies Associate Professor Dr. Lakshmi Srinivas, Institute of Asian American Studies Director Dr. Paul Watanabe, Institute of New England Native American Studies Director Dr. Cedric Woods, and Dr. Kiang himself.

Of all of the applicants, Dr. Lâm was viewed as the top candidate for the position.

This semester, ASAMST 294 is being taught by Linh-Phương Vũ, a PhD student in the Global Inclusion and Social Development doctoral program. She was also a mentee of Dr. Lâm, working under her as a teaching assistant in Spring 2020. Vũ took the podium to discuss recent projects in Vietnamese American Studies and the class itself, inviting several students previously or currently enrolled in ASAMST 294 to speak on their own experiences.

Students agreed that the class was beneficial in expanding their knowledge on their heritage in a new and accessible way. Most importantly, it allowed students to connect to their culture and build a relationship with an instructor that they could relate to.

After some final words from Vũ, the audience gave an ovation as she welcomed Dr. Lâm to the podium. Dr. Lâm began her speech with a moving remembrance of her mother and the hardships she faced after the Vietnam War to give them a good life. She also looked back upon her experience at UMass Boston.

“I came to UMass Boston as a transfer student from a ‘hippie’ college in West Mass.,” she said.

She transferred to be closer to her family and didn’t know where she wanted to go in life. However, it was through the Asian American Studies Program and community that she found her sense of belonging. Discussing her appreciation for all that she gained from the program as a student, Dr. Lâm emphasized community.

“I didn’t get here alone, and I didn’t do it on my own,” she said. “I look to you all, the next generation. You are the future.” 

Once she finished her speech, Dr. Lâm opened the floor for questions from the audience. One question was asked about her experience after graduation.

“It was really hard to find professors who could be my mentor, who understood what it was like to come from the kind of background that I came from,” she responded. “I will also say that a lot of graduate educational spaces are primarily white-dominant. And so it’s hard to do that and try to survive and figure out what you can bring to it…I think what’s important is to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, your sources of strength and your sources of purpose, and to do that.”

To the Vietnamese American students she will teach in the future, Dr. Sơn Ca Lâm will no doubt be a source of inspiration and a mentor to confide in as an instructor at UMass Boston.