Glenn Magpantay, an adjunct assistant professor in the Asian American studies program at Hunter College, is a newly appointed commissioner on the U.S. federal Commission on Civil Rights, an agency that advises Congress and the White House on civil rights issues and future policy.
As a veteran civil rights attorney, Magpantay hopes to highlight the needs of Asian Americans and the problems they face today. As a CUNY part-time instructor, he hopes to highlight the power of public higher education.
“The last time the commission did a full-on study of civil rights concerning Asian Americans was in 1992. It’s been 30 years,” said Magpantay, who is the only Asian American on the commission. “Asian Americans are the nation’s fastest-growing racial minority group. We’re the largest segment of new immigrants, and yet we still face discrimination in employment, housing, voting [and] public spaces. Those are issues to bring out in specificity.”
Magpantay is the first LGBTQ Asian American commissioner, and he is the first Filipino American commissioner since the commission’s creation under President Dwight Eisenhower, according to a commission press release. He also has his eye on the spate of anti-Asian hate crimes.
“I think everybody knows about the violence Asians have faced since COVID, and the violence South Asians have known since 9/11,” he said. “It is a diverse community that works hard [and] that has built America. Yet so often we are marginalized by America.”
He added, “Asians are scared. My students are scared. I try to teach them that they should stand up for themselves and their community.”
Magpantay, who thanked Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Congress Member Grace Meng for his appointment, said that he hopes that his position will also call attention to the needs of CUNY students.
“I’m a tough professor, and I am because when I demand excellence from my students, they deliver excellence,” he said. “My goal is not [only] for them to pass my classes and graduate, but to be the future leaders of their city and of America.”
But far too often, he said, CUNY shortchanges its students because of low faculty pay and relying on part-time faculty instead of hiring full-timers. “Our students have high potential, but they need faculty and mentors who can bring that potential to the fore.”
This mentorship is a personal mission for Magpantay, who said his public school and SUNY instructors were vital in helping him navigate the world as one of the few out-of-the-closet gay men in his community in the 1980s.
“It was because of faculty that I survived. They pushed me, and I realized the potential that I never even knew I had,” he said. “That’s why I teach at CUNY, because I see these kids who were just like me 40 years ago.”
Magpantay teaches Asian American civil rights, Asian American queerness and an introduction to Asian American studies at Hunter. The program is fulfilling, he said, added that students deserve more.
“What I want to do is to bring more attention to CUNY and to Hunter,” he said. “Hunter has CUNY’s only Asian American program, and it’s not a department. All the faculty are part-time adjuncts. We’ve been trying to get a line, a tenured faculty line.”
Magpantay will continue to work at Hunter while he embarks on this new federal role.
Published: April 26, 2023