Asian American studies campaign rallies to raise student awareness

Before Saturday’s Homecoming game, students held a rally to raise  community awareness of their mission to create a program for Asian American studies.

Students attending the rally met at the gate to Weston Field at 11:30 a.m. The rally lasted about 30 minutes.

Participants in the rally wore white armbands to show their support for the creation of the program and members of the campaign’s board gave speeches to the crowd. According to Sophia Rosenfeld ’15, a community liaison for the campaign, turnout was lower than originally expected, but this was most likely due to the fact that the rally was held the morning of Homecoming. Rosenfeld added that the College’s attitude towards activism may also have been a factor.

“The atmosphere of Williams College is not always conducive to activist efforts, especially ones that appear to be disrupting the status quo,” Rosenfeld said.

The campaign primarily drew support from other organizations within the Minority Coalition (MinCo). “The rally was supposed to be partly a coalition for minority groups, coming together to show that they support ethnic studies and that this is part of an ethnic studies movement,” Donnie Kost ’15, who handles publicity and student involvement for the campaign, said. “Part of it was to get visibility out to the student body and also to get visibility out to the administration so that they could take us seriously. So the whole idea is that it’s a coalition. We get the students with us, and we have the administration pay more attention to us.”

The administration was notified that the rally would take place; the campaign also worked to inform students of the rally’s occurrence through a number of methods in the week leading up to the rally. However, the event was interrupted by a group of students who disagreed with the campaign’s methods.

“One of the students came up to us and said, ‘I find this offensive. You’re not trying to talk with us; you’re not trying to make us understand where you’re coming from; you’re just being disruptive,’” Kost said. “And I think this shows that the student didn’t know what we were saying. If you read the actual stuff that we were saying, we were very much tying it into educational ideology, morals and ethnic studies and a lot of justification for what we were doing was in what we were saying.”

Despite the interruption, the campaign fulfilled its goal to raise awareness among the student body, according to Rosenfeld. “I think we got a lot of attention,” Rosenfeld said. “I think if you asked the average student at Williams College right now if they knew about the campaign for Asian American studies they would say yes, and that’s a really good thing.”

According to Jenny Tang ’13, campaign chair, the board does not expect to have a concentration in Asian American studies in the near future, or even during the time that the students currently organizing the campaign are at the College. If successful, Tang said, the campaign might see results in five to 10 years. This is not historically unusual for an ethnic studies campaign; while students held demonstrations in 1991 and 1993 in support of a Latina/o studies program, the concentration was not instituted until 2004.

“If you look at the history of any of these ethnic studies programs at Williams College, the only reason they’re here is that there were small groups of committed students who were willing to take a risk, who were willing to take a stand, and I think that’s what we’re doing,” Tang said. “I really think that the fact that we did [the rally] was such a powerful symbol, and I’d like to think that in 20 years people looking through the Williams archives will see that this is what generated the opportunity to study [Asian American studies] on campus.”

Melinda Wang ’14, campaign secretary and historian, said that the issue is not that the College lacks the funding to provide a program, but that it does not yet prioritize it. Much of the campaign’s work will be to show the administration that Asian American studies is a necessary discipline deserving of a program at the College akin to those offered at peer institutions. Saturday’s rally was intended to be a step in that direction; by increasing student support, Rosenfeld hopes the campaign can demonstrate that “this is not an Asian American issue, but rather an educational issue and a student issue.”

While the discipline may appeal to Asian American students in particular, Wang is confident that students from all backgrounds would benefit from the creation of an Asian American studies program or concentration.

“Asian American studies is so important because it gives us an understanding of what it means to be in America. Understanding the undercurrents of everything that’s occurring is very important,” Wang said.

Many of the questions the board receives from fellow students are answered on the campaign’s website, which explains the perceived need for an Asian American studies program and how students can become involved. The campaign’s board meetings are also open for students who have questions.

By the end of the semester, the board aims to hold a meeting with members of both the faculty and the administration to develop an outline for the future of the campaign that everyone involved can agree upon. This may pose a challenge, according to Wang, but student outreach like last weekend’s rally is a step in the right direction.

“Even though there are people who are upset about the rally, they went and they heard the words ‘Asian American studies,’ which is already a lot,” Wang said. “Ultimately, I think the entire rally was a success. I want to commend anyone who attended the rally. To actually have the guts to stand up and do something is definitely not the norm at Williams College …. I think that is very much in what we wish is a Williams College spirit.”

  • esther

    in solidarity, much love to you all for standing up for your right to have a space in your college that allows you to engage w/ your own identity and experiences as a critical part of your education!