Faculty Focus – Dr. Kong Pheng Pha

Name: Kong Pheng Pha

Title: Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies

Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Educational/professional background: I attended public schools my entire life, from Head Start all the way through graduate school. I ended up attending the University of Minnesota (which was my hometown university) for my undergraduate studies. I received my BA in psychology, with minors in sociology, history, and Asian American studies. Because I had such a strong network of support in the Twin Cities area, I decided to stay at the University of Minnesota to complete my PhD in American studies. I taught for six years at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before starting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in fall 2023.

What is your field of research, and how did you get into it? My research and public scholarship centers Hmong American experiences in the diaspora. As an undergraduate student, I was fortunate to receive mentorship from some of the best scholars in Asian American studies in the country, who affirmed that the study of Hmong American historical, social, political, and cultural life was valuable and needed. As a young activist in the Twin Cities, I saw the connections between Hmong American experiences and the experiences of other minoritized communities experiencing marginalization in U.S. society. Thus, my research ultimately seeks to bring Hmong American experiences into conversations about social justice and social transformation in academic writing and organizing domains.

What attracted you to UW-Madison? I am so thankful to teach and do research at UW-Madison because of its strong connections to local communities, particularly Hmong American communities. The opportunity to create new engagements and partnerships with this particular community seemed like a natural progression of my research agenda. Additionally, my position in the Asian American Studies Program allows me to apply intersectional methods of community engagement with the work in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department. Ultimately, I believe that the strong histories of activism at UW-Madison and the nationally recognized work of local activist communities in Madison enables me to do what I am most passionate about in life: amplifying the experiences of minoritized communities in the U.S., particularly Hmong Americans.

What was your first visit to campus like? I actually visited UW-Madison many years ago as a teenager, and it left such a memorable impression on me, that I actually applied and was accepted to attend as an undergraduate student. However, that ultimately did not work out. Over the years, I have engaged in various collaborations with scholars and students at UW-Madison. I have also given a few talks here in the past. It feels quite fateful to finally be a professor here. During my campus interviews, I was struck by how close and welcoming the people are here. With all that being said, this school left a very positive impression on me, and I am thankful to work here.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how. I definitely see my work aligning with the Wisconsin Idea! My research examines how systems of oppression shape and define the experiences of minoritized communities in the U.S. My research and activism with Hmong American and Asian American communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin seeks to understand how social dynamics such as race, class, gender, disability, and sexuality inform ideas, representations, and policies that create exclusion and non-belonging. In doing so, my research, teaching, community engagement, and activism hopes to improve educational, political, economic, and social outcomes for marginalized and underrepresented communities (which are Hmong Americans and Southeast Asian refugees in my immediate research context), but hopefully by extension, for all communities as well.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties, now that we can attend them again? Hmong Americans are some of the most dynamic populations in the U.S. today. In a state like Minnesota, for example, they have been influential in shaping policies around marriage equality, reproductive justice, and economic reform in the last decade, just to name a few. I would definitely say that Hmong Americans and their histories and contemporary experiences are integral to understanding regional Midwestern cultures, histories, and politics, and even democracy at large.

Hobbies/other interests: I enjoy hiking with my partner, and our goal is to visit all the U.S. national parks in our lifetimes. I am obsessed with art museums and scrapbooking. Apocalyptic television shows and movies are also my favorites! I also follow tennis and volleyball zealously. I have attended the NCAA volleyball national championships and U.S. Open tennis tournament, which were tremendously fun!