Khatharya Um is Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies, Coordinator of the Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies Program, and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Social Sciences Division. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Political Science at the University of California, San Diego and PhD in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley where she was also a Chancellor’s Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow.
She is an internationally acclaimed scholar whose research and publications center on migration, diaspora, and critical refugee studies, Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian American studies, postcolonial studies, and genocide studies with a particular focus on the politics of memory and post-conflict healing.
She has published extensively in these areas including the recent books Southeast Asian Migration: People on the Move in Search of Work, Refuge and Belonging and From the Land of Shadows: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Cambodian Diaspora, a groundbreaking study that illuminates the enduring legacies of war, genocide, and exile.
Professor Um’s scholarship is foundational to the fields of Southeast Asian American Studies and Critical Refugee Studies. She co-founded the UC-wide Critical Refugee Studies Collective that works to reframe refugee discourse and recenter refugee voices and perspectives, and is Co-Editor of the UC Press Critical Refugee Studies Book Series.
Her groundbreaking contributions are also in the field of Southeast Asian American Studies. Through her scholarship and courses that are among the first in the nation to address the relational and comparative histories, cultures, and experiences of Southeast Asian Americans, she effectively built a thriving Southeast Asian American Studies program at Berkeley, and contributed significantly to the growth of the field nationwide.
She also helps advance Berkeley’s internationalization mission as Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies Program, and in her leadership roles on various initiatives of the International Alliance of Research Universities, including as Chair of the Global Transformation Strategic Working Group. She also works with United Nations agencies on migration issues and peace promoting initiatives, including leading an international team of scholars, researchers, and teachers in the development of a secondary school curriculum on Southeast Asian shared histories that has been integrated into the national curricula of numerous Southeast Asian countries. As the long serving Faculty Director of Berkeley Study Abroad program, she effectively promoted the participation of students of color, first-generation students, and transfer students in study abroad.
In addition to her field-forming scholarship, Professor Um is also a long-standing advocate who has helped shape state and national policies in the US, particularly on issues of educational access and inclusion. Her research on Southeast Asian American educational experiences was instrumental in pushing for disaggregation of the Asian American data. Professor Um was a founder of the National Cambodian American Organization, and has led many national refugee serving organizations. In recognition of her work and leadership, she received the Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence and Equity. She was the first Cambodian American woman to receive a PhD.