By Chloé Margulis
Amy Freedman, a Professor of Political Science and International Studies, received the “The United States and Southeast Asia: Past Legacies, Present Issues and Future Prospects” Borg Research Award at Columbia University.
Freedman, along with two professors from Columbia and one from Seton Hall University, submitted a proposal to the Borg Foundation for more money to develop further programs at Columbia on U.S. – Southeast Asian relations. This award is accompanied by a $321,000 grant that will be used over the next three years to host two conferences at Columbia with two post-doctoral researchers.
The goal of this award is to relate past experience to present issues in the field of U.S. and Southeast Asian relations. Winning the award was important to Freedman because it ensured she would be connected with scholars around the world who researched in the same field as her.
Freedman’s freshman year in college was a tough adjustment since she realized how hard it was to make new friendships, however by sophomore year, she declared her major in Political Science. At Barnard College, she was given the opportunity to discover what she was interested in by taking many classes that were not core requirements. Her favorite courses were those focused on Asia.
“I am most interested in current, modern questions, and trying to understand questions about democracy and human rights,” she said, explaining her major. Throughout college, Freedman explored different jobs, still unsure as to what she wanted to pursue in her future.
Following college graduation, Freedman spent several months traveling around Southeast Asia to continue her research: mostly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and China. She was given the opportunity to interview government officials, other professors, and people in these countries.
“It was a very humbling process because I was asking other people to share their experiences with me, and I couldn’t pay them in return, other than buying them breakfast or a coffee,” Freedman said about her experience in Southeast Asia. “It was also an exercise in deference, respect, and being appreciative that people will share their time and knowledge with you.”
Freedman is the author of several published books about her research. The first book she wrote, published in 2000 and titled Political Participation and Ethnic Minorities, was based on her dissertation. She studied ethnic Chinese minorities and the way they organize themselves in their community to assert and protect their interests. She provided examples from her research in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as case studies in the NYC China Town community, and a Chinese community in Monterey Park, Calif.
“The thing about writing academic work is that it is research based, and very few people will read it,” Freedman said. Although she enjoyed researching, she didn’t exactly enjoy writing, as this was less of a creative project. The dissertation took close to two years to complete, and editing it into a book manuscript brought the project to a total of three years.
Freedman worked at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania for ten years, while her husband worked in New York. They had a commuter marriage and wanted to change that, so Freedman left her job to come to LIU Post and teach International Studies and Political Science. Freedman pegged Chinese politics as her favorite class to teach, mostly because the students come in knowing very little about China.
“China is the only place where you will see two hundred years of change happening so quickly,” Freedman added. “It is the most mind- boggling place to study in the twentieth century.”
Freedman has created an open environment for her students to grow as individuals. Mark Satira, a senior with a dual degree in Political Science and Public Administration, said that Freedman was able to make complex topics easy to comprehend and interesting to learn about.
“Dr. Freedman also nominated me for a fellowship with the Center for The Study of the Presidency and Congress… and I was chosen to represent Post for this year,” Satira said. “This experience has really helped me gain more insight into this [field].”
Mona Kristiansen, a senior Political Science major described how hard it is to pick just one of Freedman’s classes as her favorite since they were all very interesting and engaging in different ways.
“[Dr. Freedman’s] International Relations class is the reason I chose to major in Political Science, because it made me realize how interested I am in international relations,” Kristiansen explained.
Satira was given the opportunity to research with Freedman for his current research.
“The work I did with her was very rewarding, and the experience has recently helped me get an internship position in the city,” he said. “I attribute a lot of my growth and maturity in my academic and professional career to the opportunities she has provided to me.”
Freedman is currently on sabbatical, researching nontraditional security threats in Southeast Asia, including threats from climate change, migration, food security, and the spread of new infectious diseases.