Asian American Students in Action (AASiA), the umbrella organization for South Asian Students Association, Koreans of Williams, Chinese American Students Organization and Asian Dance Troupe, is continuing to lead a campaign for an Asian American studies program at the College.
Under the leadership of Corbin Chu ’15, AASiA has developed a committee dedicated to organizing and initiating action concerning the campaign. While it has received some support from faculty, the movement has moved forward primarily as a result of student activism.
The movement for an Asian American studies concentration has been developing for many years. “The misconception is that this a recent thing that just started,” Associate Professor of American Studies Dorothy Wang said.
Rutgers Professor of American Studies Allan Punzalan Isaac ’91, who has been outspoken about the struggles for race and ethnic studies during and since his time at the College, recalled student activism surrounding the campaign for Asian American studies, as well as a broader focus on ethnic studies, during his time at the College.
“I was a first year in 1987 when we took over the deans’ office in Jenness House … to bring attention to the sore lack in the curriculum of any sustained inquiry on race and ethnic studies, of which Asian American studies was a part,” Isaac said. “The administration responded with the founding of the Multicultural Center [now the Davis Center], the establishment of the two Minority Representative positions on College Council and a compromised inclusion of a non-Western content course requirement.”
According to Wang, however, “[the movement] never reached the kind of tipping point that resulted in the Latina/o studies and Africana studies programs.”
Wang pointed to the relevancy of Asian American studies in higher education. “Asian American studies has a legitimacy that’s been established; there are journals of Asian American studies, there are professors, there are Ph.Ds granted in the field,” Wang said.
Wang views the Africana and Latina/o studies programs as evidence of the necessity of creating a program with emphasis on Asian Americans. “There’s more legitimacy to the claim for the program now that Williams has invested money in Africana and Latina/o programs with faculty lines,” Wang said.
Supporters of the campaign have met resistance to the initiative based on finances. Based on articles he has read, according to Chu, “[The administration] would be supportive of [a program], but at this point, there are limitations in hiring additional staff and creating a new department. It would take a certain allocation of resources that we don’t have immediately or can’t afford to spend immediately.”
The challenge comes in convincing the administration that an Asian American studies program is important enough to justify the hiring expenses involved.
“The administration is always reluctant to make new hires because of the supposed lack of funds,” Wang said. “A lot of people also think it’s a narrow field of study of interest only to Asian Americans, but Asian American history and culture are actually very important aspects of United States history and culture and of the history and current reality of globalization.”
As with any other proposed program change, those advocating for a program in Asian American studies are required to submit a proposal to the Committee on Educational Policy before any official action can be taken on its implementation. According to Dean Bolton, such steps have not yet been taken. “The path for creating new concentrations and majors at the College is through a specific proposal to the Committee on Educational Policy, and then ultimately through a vote at the faculty,” Bolton said. “To my knowledge no proposal [in regards to Asian American studies] has yet come to the CEP.”