Cal State Fullerton wants to add a Korean studies program

Traffic signs in Orange County direct drivers to the Korean District in Garden Grove.
Traffic signs in Orange County direct drivers to the Korean District in Garden Grove.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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In response to the growing Korean American population in Orange County, Cal State Fullerton wants to add a Korean studies program to its academic offerings.

University officials said they're at the brainstorming stage, but hope to entice area politicians and academics to a conference next month to discuss how it could contribute to the Southern California community.

“We are in a very diverse region, even within the Asian American community,” said Danny Kim, vice president for administration and chief financial officer for Cal State University, Fullerton.

Although Los Angeles County is home to the largest Korean and Korean American community in the state, Orange County is catching up.

The number of Koreans living in O.C. grew by 16 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to estimates from the American Community Survey. That’s compared to an approximate two percent drop in the Korean population in L.A. County over the same time period.

Koreans are the second largest Asian ethnicity in Orange County after Vietnamese. The third largest group is Chinese. Korean American businesses and faith-based organizations have also grown in northern Orange County.

Kim said the area is evolving from its past suburban profile into an ethnic urban center where more nearly 600,000 Asian Americans live, making the county the third-largest home to Asian Americans.

The summit, held December 4, will explore what a Korean studies institute could look like. It’s in partnership with the Korea Foundation, a governmental relations agency based in Seoul that promotes Korean cultural and academic programs around the world.

Several universities in Southern California already house Korean research centers: Cal State Los Angeles, UC Los Angeles, University of Southern California, UC Riverside.

Over the last year, university officials in Fullerton have courted South Korean delegates including hosting the professional baseball team NC Dinos for an exhibition game in February.

The quest for a Korean-focused program comes as college students across the country demand more diversity on campuses, including in academic research.

Asian American and Pacific Island students are the third largest ethnicity on the Cal State Fullerton campus, at 21 percent, according to the university’s fact sheet. Latinos make up 37 percent, followed by whites at 23 percent.

Kim said he felt Asian Americans are well represented in the student population on campus, but said within that group, there is much diversity that should be considered.

“You may have a group, like certain students from Southeast Asian areas that are feeling marginalized,” he said. “And they may face the same kind of challenges that African American students and other disadvantaged groups may face.”