#AASM (Asians are Still Mad)

When the College refers to its founding in 1793, it is to evoke respect for and awe of its institutional history, long-standing prestige, and established ethos. When we say the Asian American Studies Movement (AASM) at Williams has lasted over 34 years, it is out of embarrassment. 

It is embarrassing that the College still has not established an Asian American studies concentration when it is a common program at many colleges with fewer resources. It is embarrassing that the College has allowed 34 years of activism to pass with no program — 34 years during which students who took part in the initial discussions about AASM are now considering sending their children to a school where the program still does not exist. 

Once again, the College has topped national rankings, with Forbes ranking Williams as the seventh best college in the entire country — but for whom? 

The University of Pennsylvania — three spots below us — is celebrating the 25th anniversary of their Asian American studies minor this month. Amherst College — seventeen spots below us — has offered an Asian/Pacific/ American studies certificate since 2000, and it recently hired three Asian Americanist professors. Pomona College — seventy-eight spots below us — has offered an Asian American studies major since 1998. 

The lack of a concentration is not for lack of student and faculty activism. In the past 34 years, students have submitted two program proposals — only to be met with rejection from the College. 

While we are grateful for the activism that has secured the recent hires of two Asian Americanists, there are critical issues that the College has not committed to addressing: former Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Vivian Huang and former Professor of History, Emeritus Scott Wong both left the College last spring; former Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies Anthony Kim and former Arthur Levitt, Jr. Artist in Residence Franny Choi were both not offered tenure-track positions; Professor Kelly Chung and the upcoming hire specializing in Asian American history are both untenured; and Chair of English Bernie Rhie, Professor of American Studies Dorothy Wang, and Chair of American studies Jan Padios all face additional complications with department chair responsibilities and leave patterns. 

Ultimately, there is no one left to staff Asian American studies, now or in the foreseeable future, unless the College meets our three asks: 1) more faculty, 2) more courses, and 3) now. 

While many faculty, administrators, and staff have expressed their support of AASM, we ask that this support manifest in more than just words. We have asked the department chairs of related academic programs if they would contribute one cross-listed class per academic year towards Asian American studies. It will be near-impossible to build a strong program without the help of existing resources in larger departments like political science, psychology, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. 

A robust liberal arts curriculum is one that must include a robust ethnic studies curriculum. Offering cross-listed courses is also vital for ensuring that students of color already in those departments feel represented, because our lived experiences are worthy academic pursuits. 

The state of Asian American studies at the College has actually regressed. In 2019-2020, a total of twelve Asian American studies courses were advertised on the course catalog, only for that to all change in three years: Along with the mass exodus of Asian Americanist professors, the number of course offerings in Asian American studies has dropped by 83 percent to a grand total of two courses. 

We are also asking that the College commit to hiring more Asian Americanist professors, as opposed to placating us with a theoretical promise in the hypothetical future. Specifically, we are asking for a simultaneous hire. 

Padios will be taking the lead on submitting a program proposal this month, for consideration in the spring, to establish an Asian American studies concentration, subject to begin next fall. We ask that the College commit to a simultaneous hire with the establishment of the program. 

Otherwise, if a program proposal for Asian American studies is submitted this spring, we would have to wait until spring 2024 to request another hire, wait until fall 2024 to conduct the hiring search, and only in fall 2025 would that professor begin teaching at the College. Many of us in the movement will have already graduated by then. 

Instead, we ask that the hire of another Asian Americanist professor be approved this spring so they may begin teaching fall 2024. The College has said they will consider hiring more Asian Americanist professors should the program demonstrate success if and when it is approved — but they have yet to explain how we are supposed to build a sustainable program without any resources. 

The College’s current mission statement boasts of its dedication to diversity as well as its dedication “[t]o provid[ing] the finest possible liberal arts education,” but a robust liberal arts curriculum must also be a diverse one. The question of diversity does not lie in how students of color serve the College but in how the College supports such diversity. 

The three decades of activism behind AASM are ultimately three decades of students of color telling the College that their learning needs are not being fulfilled — only to be met with silence and apathy. It is unfair for the College to market its student diversity as an admirable trait of the institution if it refuses to provide the resources to support Asian American students. 

But we are grateful and indebted to those who have been supporting us. From the Jamboree performance groups who publicly announced their support of ethnic studies, to the time and labor the Black Student Union and Vista dedicated to our ethnic studies teach-in, we thank you all. The establishment of a strong Asian American studies program also necessitates the allocation of more resources for strong Africana and Latina/o/x studies programs, as well as the establishment of an Indigenous studies program. 

It is our wish that the Asian American Studies Movement need not ever reach its 35th year. 

AASiA (Asian American Students in Action) is the political Asian American organization at the College. Their two main goals are to: 1) build and politicize a pan-Asian American community on campus, and 2) to help establish an Asian American studies program at the College.