By Andy Brown
A torch is being passed in Kalamazoo College’s Department of East Asian Studies as it continues a tradition of excellence in teaching and guiding students toward global citizenship. Two of its foundational members, professors emerita Madeline Chu in Chinese and Roselee Bundy in Japanese, passed away in 2022 and 2021 respectively. Their scholarship, service and leadership have set up students and their colleagues, now and in the future, for remarkable success as the department looks ahead toward recruiting new students, achieving classroom success and preparing graduates for a global workplace going forward.
Chu accepted a professorship at Kalamazoo College in 1988 and served the College for more than 28 years. At K, she was an endowed chair and received K’s Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship award in recognition of her outstanding classroom teaching. Her calligraphy class was popular with students across campus. Off campus, she was elected president of the Chinese Language Teacher’s Association, a national organization dedicated to promoting and advancing the quality of the teaching of Chinese.
Bundy served the College for nearly 30 years, teaching Japanese literature in translation from all periods, Japanese women’s literature, Asian-American literature and Japanese language courses. In 2009, she earned K’s Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship Award for Excellence in Scholarship in recognition of her outstanding achievement in research and publication.
Both were known nationally as exceptional teachers and scholars who were dedicated to their students and subjects. Current and former faculty are reflecting on that dedication while forecasting what’s next for East Asian studies students.
Chu ‘made the whole place better’
Tim Light is a former College trustee and faculty member who became provost, and eventually, K’s acting president in 1989 and 1990. When Light arrived at K, no Japanese or Chinese programs were offered. He was the one who pursued the initial fundraising to launch the programs. He also was the provost who recruited Chu in 1988 before forming a long friendship with her.
“She was always on top of things and really did a good job,” Light said. “She had a personal approach to people and cared about them. She made the whole place better by the time she left.”
Yet it wasn’t just her teaching that left a lasting impression on Light and on K. Her financial know-how established long-term funding sources for two tenure-track positions within East Asian studies, including hers. Plus, her efforts were imperative in assuring study abroad programs in Asian cities such as Nanjing and Beijing.
“The languages began with French, German and Spanish, and the whole study abroad program was first arranged for them,” Light said. “Eventually, we needed something for Chinese. Madeline was the backbone to that study abroad program.”
Wen Chao Chen Professor of East Asian Social Sciences Dennis Frost shares Light’s admiration for Chu’s devotion, a compliment he extended to Bundy.
“A lot of times I’ve heard students say just how great Madeline was as a teacher and how focused she was on students, while making sure that their Chinese was as strong as possible,” Frost said. “This was also true of Rose and her students. The reason we have two tenure-track lines in East Asian studies is them. They worked really hard so those positions could build up the program.”
Bundy funds student travel abroad
In 1991, K hired Bundy, who many current faculty members remember fondly, partly for the team she was a part of, the achievements of her students and her dedication to them.
“In January 2009, I became a finalist for a position teaching Japanese and came to Kalamazoo College,” Associate Professor of Japanese Noriko Sugimori said. “Roselee Bundy was the chair of the search committee. At the time of the job interview, I had a chance to talk with many faculty members who were very happy. That was the moment I wanted to join the College and join more of these conversations.
“I was impressed by Kalamazoo College students’ high motivation to learn Japanese,” she added. “Part of my job interview was to demonstrate my teaching, and I was so impressed by the high level of speaking. I was also impressed that Roselee Bundy knew so many details of students’ lives. It gave me the impression that students and professors are very close. I had taught at big schools where I didn’t see such connections.”
Bundy’s efforts continue to benefit today’s K students. Sugimori said Bundy was practical and careful with her finances in life, making possible funds that benefit students with limited resources who want to study abroad in Asia.
Enter the Roselee Bundy Student Travel Fund to Asia and the Roselee Bundy Study Abroad Travel Scholarship Fund. The programs, launched last year, provide benefits for students to perform Senior Integrated Project (SIP) research, provide conference presentations, seek some types of internships, and—in some cases—receive travel expenses, living expenses and archive fees related to distinct research projects in Asia.
“Professor Bundy was devastated to see excellent students give up study abroad for financial reasons,” Sugimori said. “She expressed her wish that everybody could study abroad in Japan. These funds were just announced, and all faculty members of East Asian studies, including me, are exploring the best way to publicize and receive student proposals.”
More tangibly, a book collection donated by Bundy also bears testimony to her dedication to students. “Our students went to her house when she sold it to help carry all of her books to our East Asian studies suite, and we now have a special Roselee Bundy collection,” Sugimori said. “Those books will continue to help scholars who specialize in this field in the future.”
New faculty helping new students
Going forward, new faculty will help students for years to come, thanks in part to the legacies of Bundy and Chu. Take, for example, Assistant Professor of Chinese Yanshuo Zhang, who arrived at the College in January 2022, joining Frost, Sugimori, Assistant Professor of Japanese Brian White and Assistant Professor of Chinese Leihua Weng in the department.
Zhang arrived from the University of Michigan, where she was a postdoctoral research fellow in its Center for Chinese Studies. She said she immediately heard from colleagues at other institutions about Chu upon accepting her job at K.
“Many mentioned to me that they had participated in some programs that Professor Madeline Chu had organized back in the 1990s and early 2000s,” Zhang said. “It was delightful to hear that Professor Chu was actively organizing Chinese studies, conferences and workshops, and she left a legacy in the field beyond K.”
That makes predecessors such as Chu in Chinese and Bundy in Japanese role models for her and her future colleagues in East Asian studies, where students learn about some of the world’s most ancient and complex cultures, and the region’s influence in global trade, finance, popular culture and geopolitical interest.
“I’ve always been thinking about how to best serve the academic community, and Professor Bundy and Professor Chu exemplified this great effort to combine their scholarly expertise with their service and their teaching,” Zhang said. “Professor Chu and Professor Bundy organized East Asian studies not only for subject matter but as a doorway for students’ cultural curiosity so they could be interculturally competent and internationally savvy. I think that’s a core component of our liberal arts education and a reason why it’s important to have a foreign-language component and even study abroad. It’s not just another area of knowledge, but it’s core to global citizenship.”
To provide an example of how she seeks to follow in their footsteps, Zhang said she’s secured a book donation through another professor, much like Bundy provided a donation of her books for East Asian studies, to build those donations into a departmental library.
“I think it’s a wonderful story of everything coming full circle and seeing our legacy extending beyond the College and to younger generations. To see the branches of our program internationally and intergenerationally has been really inspiring for me as a new assistant professor in our program.”
‘Don’t ignore a small deed’
Looking across campus, influences such as Chu’s and Bundy’s are distinctive and inspiring in East Asian studies, yet not unique at K. Most departments have leaders and teachers like Chu and Bundy, and that’s an important detail to affirm as East Asian studies, and the entire College, continue providing excellent educations in the liberal arts.
“If we can tell future students about them, I think we will say that Professor Bundy and Professor Chu were great examples of the vast majority of professors here at K who are sterling scholars and published writers,” Zhang said. “And their names are known in the fields of their academic studies. But our professors are integrating their life’s work into their career and their work at the College. It’s not separate. It’s one full package our students will get from our faculty because the scholarship faculty are developing will translate into course materials, class activities and the things we teach our students.”
And no matter how small the messages from those materials and activities might seem at the moment they’re sent, faculty never know what might spark the inspiration that leads to further research, scholarly efforts or even a career in a field such as East Asian studies.
“To borrow a lesson from Chinese culture, don’t ignore a small deed because it’s small,” Zhang said. “It could grow into a big enterprise in the future.”
East Asian Studies Widens World View
This fall, I started my first year at Kalamazoo College. I have always had an interest in history, but my high school had not offered me any classes on Asian History, just American and European history.
Following my interest, one of the first classes I took was Professor Dennis Frost’s lecture on modern Chinese history. Dr. Frost’s lectures focus on Chinese history from 1911 to the present. He speaks about the changes that the Chinese society and government have been through in the past 111 years and the broad history of Modern China, while the outside readings focus on singular lives of Chinese people during this time. Outside of class, we read an autobiography about a woman soldier during the unification of China under the Guomindang, also called the Chinese Nationalist Party, and another autobiography from the lens of a failed scholar.
This class has widened my worldview and knowledge. Before Dr. Frost’s class, I knew almost nothing of China and its people. Through his coursework and his required readings, I have gained a new understanding of China as a whole. This new understanding has provided me with a glimpse into Chinese culture and history. My horizons have been widened to include the experience of Modern Chinese people. This will help me be a better citizen of the world and understand others’ plights. I do not yet know what I want to major in, but Dr. Frost’s class will help me no matter what I choose.
Faith Bacon-Angevine ’26