Academic Strides: First WOC Full Professor At USC English Dep’t. Is A Filipina

Despite the number of Filipinos in the US increasing up to 4.1 million as per the U.S. Census American Community Survey in 2018, there’s still a lack of Filipino-Americans in the academic community. For this reason, the announcement of Karen Tongson as the first woman of color (WOC) to become a full professor at the English department of the University of Southern California is a huge stride for the Fil-Am community. This is also an honorable achievement among WOC in general.

Tongson was previously an associate professor who taught English, gender studies, and similar subjects. For over 15 years, she has been part of the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences of USC. In addition to this, she had received a doctorate degree in English from USC, Berkeley, and postdoctoral fellowships in both UC San Diego and UC Irvine. Tongson is also an author on different queer and culture studies as well as a co-producer and co-host of a podcast.

For her to be promoted to full professor, Tongson had to pass the standards of USC, which included significant impact on their respective fields and great teaching and mentorship skills. 

Her appointment to full professor is a huge deal among people of color (POC) in the academe, as well as Fil-Ams in the same field. In a study conducted in 2013, it was revealed that WOC comprised only 2.3% of the faculty who are tenured in the country or are about to be tenured. Within USC, only 21% of the faculty were of Asian descent as of 2016, with 25% of that number on the track to be tenured and 15% being tenured. As for Filipinos, there are only 6 Fil-Am faculty members out of the 4,000 members of the whole staff.

Regarding this achievement, Tongson expressed how much of a “profound honor” it was to have her work at USC as a great way to represent the Filipino and Fil-Am community in academics. She also says that this is the most logical step, being “par for the course in U.S. academia.”

With this huge stride for POC and WOC nationwide, the position carries a huge responsibility. Tongson mentions that because POC and WOC are typically not seen in the academe in significant numbers, non-white students cling more onto the limited non-white faculty members for mentoring and guidance. Through her newly-appointed status, Tongson aims to contribute more in both her field and assisting students and colleagues in their academic progress.

She also encourages her Fil-Am pupils with a calling for liberal arts to push for it despite the cultural expectations of Filipinos to enter the medical or engineering industry.

The fact that it’s 2020 and such attainments are only happening now is proof that we still have a long way to go. But with Karen Tongson’s accomplishments, both the Fil-Am and WOC community in the U.S. are brought one step closer to achieving representation in their fields. All aspiring academic professionals – whether they be women, people of color, or both – can look to Tongson’s example for inspiration as a strong woman who made it against all odds through determination, passion, and hard work. And as Tongson mentioned before, she will not be the last WOC to get such an achievement.

(Asian Journal,

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