A Brief History

Since the 1990s, three formal proposals for Asian American Studies have been written, submitted, and campaigned. Two have been unsuccessful (2004-2005, 2012-2013), and one is currently in consideration (2018-2019) with the Curricular Planning Committee (CPC).

  • Mid-1980s: Williams College hires its first Asian American Studies professor in Asian American History & Immigration Studies, Professor Scott Wong.

  • Early 1990s: Students at Williams College submit a flurry of contract majors that include advocacy on behalf of Asian American Studies courses. Students also successfully petition for a Japanese fourth-year course in 1991-1992, while the CEP pushes back against a faculty's suggestion for an Asian writers course in 1992-1993. A proposal for Asian American Studies is started and worked on by student organizers and faculty throughout the decade.

  • 2001-2002: Members of AASiA decide to rewrite the proposal begun in the 1990s. They begin the process of collecting information, reaching out to administrators, and writing a mission statement for the AAS movement. This includes a compiled list of Asian American Studies courses taught at other institutions in English and History. This proposal is not officially submitted to the CEP.

  • 2004-2005: Students from the 2001 movement send the proposal to current AASiA undergraduates. Members of the movement officially submit the proposal to the CEP for a year-long study. The CEP finds that, while supportive of Asian American studies, the “size of the faculty [cannot] be further expanded to any significant degree.”

  • 2005-2006: As a result of student activism, Williams College hires a second Asian Americanist in Asian American Literature, Professor Dorothy Wang.

  • 2007-2008: AASiA members host multiple events throughout the year around Asian American identity on campus and nationally.

  • 2008-2009: A racially-charged epithet targeting Asian Americans on campus is drawn on a school building. While professors write a Record article about the incident, the administration does not respond.

  • 2009-2010: A Faculty-Staff Initiative (FSI) conducted by Williams professors and staff finds that Williams College does not adequately support minority faculty after they are hired and place unpaid social burdens upon minority staff, leading to the widespread problem of weak retention.

  • 2011-2012: Organizers form the following website to track progress over the term (https://aastudieswilliams.wordpress.com/). They host multiple, visible events throughout the year in support of Asian American Studies. Administrators are generally supportive but no tangible progress is made.

  • 2012-2013: An External Review of Williams’ American Studies department is conducted by professors from UMass Amherst, Amherst College, University of Michigan, and University of Washington; all four professors unanimously agree that Williams’ American Studies does not have enough Asian Americanists and needs an Asian American Studies program. Members of the movement submit another formal proposal for Asian American Studies to the CEP for consideration. AASiA members protest at Homecoming to raise awareness. A quote from Melinda Wang ‘14 in The Record reads: “...the issue is not that the College lacks the funding to provide a program, but that it does not yet prioritize it.”

  • 2013-2014: A cluster for Asian American Studies on the course catalog is approved by the CEP before its dissolution into the Curricular Planning Committee (CPC) and Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA). This cluster is not the same as a program; it is a collection of Asian American Studies courses for students to find more easily.

  • 2015-2016: AASiA encourages professors and administrators on the CPC and Committee on Appointments & Promotions (CAP) to attend Asian American Studies events. No member of the CAP or CPC responds to this email, nor does any member of the administration, CAP, or CPC attend the event (except for Gail Newman, Professor of German).

  • 2017-2018: Under the leadership of Professor Dorothy Wang and Professor Li Yu, a group of twenty-five faculty members hailing from eighteen different units formed an ad hoc Asian American Studies Working Group and submitted a formal staffing request   to the CAP and CPC on March 1, 2018. This staffing request calls for (1) an establishment of an independent Asian American Studies program; and (2) hiring of one new faculty member (1.0 FTE) who specializes in Asian American Studies (field open, rank open) to start in 2019-2020.

  • In April 2018, members of the Asian American Studies movement request the CAP and CPC:

    • (1) to allocate a tenured or tenure-track position to replace any of its current Asian Americanists should they retire or otherwise leave the college.

    • (2) to allocate 1.0 new FTEs in Asian American Studies by the end of a 3-year period (for a total of 2.0 FTEs on average)

    • (3) to give written and public commitment towards the establishment of Asian American Studies by the end of a 5-year period

    • (4) to allocate 2.0 additional FTEs in AAS by the end of a 5-year period (for a total of 4.0 FTEs a year on average)

  • 2018-2019: Amherst College gives a public commitment for the establishment of Asian American Studies by 2023 if not sooner.

While the CPC has approved the formation of a working group to consider Asian American Studies for 2018-19, and while the CEA approves the re-formation of a cluster for Asian American Studies on the course catalog, the CAP and administration have not given any public commitment towards the establishment of AAS to date. They have stated that they cannot give this commitment until the working group completes its yearlong study in 2018-19; this year will be critical for the establishment of Asian American Studies (AAS).