as of August 15, 2018
The Asian American Studies Working Group wishes to acknowledge the Combahee River Collective Statement as a source of inspiration for this document. We thank this collective of Black lesbian feminists for their labor and leadership. Their words impressed on us the need to leave for posterity a message about and from the Asian American Studies Movement at Williams College, so that we may archive the path that led us here, the beliefs and values which ground our work, the struggles we have faced, and the projects we are undertaking or intend to undertake.
I. Our History
For over three decades, Asian American students and their allies have been fighting for Asian American Studies at Williams College. Our collective movement has taken various actions over the decades to draw attention to this deficiency: educational forums, demonstrations, a petition that drew nearly a thousand signatures, meetings with administrators, three formal proposals to establish Asian American Studies, and so on. For a few years now, many student organizations have organized panels on Claiming Williams Day to draw attention to the absence of an Asian American Studies program on campus, the latest being the “I Am Asian American Campaign.” In 2018, the movement launched the “Williams Doesn’t Teach Me” campaign — inspired by campaigns led by Amherst and Duke students that showcased the gaps in the Williams education. Furthermore, we demonstrated at the Previews Purple Key Fair and Jamboree, with dozens of student groups standing in solidarity and issuing statements of support. During that year’s Bolin Weekend, Lily An, head of WAAAAN, delivered a statement to gathered alums and administrators about the need for Asian American Studies.
Looking beyond Williams, the movement for the establishment of Asian American Studies has garnered considerable attention and success. In 1968, demonstrations by the Third World Liberation Front at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley precipitated the field as an area of academic inquiry and the concept of an Asian American identity and political consciousness. Since then the vast majority of our peer institutions on the West Coast have established Asian American Studies majors, and schools across the country are increasingly adding the field to their curriculum. In 2016, Northwestern approved the creation of an Asian American Studies major, and in 2018, Princeton and Duke approved the establishment of an Asian American Studies program. The movement has also begun to attract national attention; in 2018, NPR published a story on Asian American Studies at Williams and beyond. Recently, we have also begun the process of coalition-building with students at other institutions to demonstrate the national reach of the movement. We have been in contact with students at Amherst, Binghamton, Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon, William and Mary, Cornell, Duke, George Mason, George Washington, Harvard, Hunter, MIT, Northwestern, Princeton, Rutgers, San Diego State, Temple, UConn, UCSF, UFL, UNC, UT-Austin, UW, Vassar, and Wellesley.
II. Beliefs and Values
Our movement is rooted in the belief that we deserve the holistic liberal arts education we were promised at Williams. An ethnic studies program that lacks Asian American Studies is an incomplete one; without a core discipline like Asian American Studies, true interdisciplinary learning in the social sciences and humanities is impossible. The development of the humanities at Williams must include a firm commitment to the critical examination of our entire social, economic, political, and cultural histories. Moreover, the racial diversity of the student body and faculty at Williams should be reflected in its education to a far greater extent than it is at present.
Our demands, which we fundamentally believe will improve the College, are founded upon our care for the Williams College community and the broader historical moment in which we are situated. We recognize that, as students of Williams College, we operate under the privileges of an institution that has sufficient resources to establish an Asian American program. We firmly believe that Williams has the capacity to initiate a national conversation around Asian American Studies that institutions with fewer resources may not. Furthermore, we hold that Williams must take demonstrable steps towards progress as peer institutions in the academic space already have.
We are not alone in this push to establish Asian American Studies; across the nation, students have been and continue to push for Asian American Studies programs and have achieved varying degrees of success. Our own efforts are not isolated but reflective of a significant movement forward in history. We believe the underlying impetus for this phenomenon is the recognition that education and knowledge precipitates social justice and that to combat racism, we must reform the basic ways we comprehend and distribute American history. The establishment of APAS programs recognizes the richness of a complete American history. As a field, Asian American Studies treats Asian Americans as agents of social and historical change. As a national movement, we value self-determination. We value the right to recover and define our experience as it relates to our heritage. We Asian Americans have made and continue to make our own history.
III. Obstacles to Organizing for Asian American Studies
Without the support of the institution, we have struggled to find the time, space, and capacity to fully realize the complexities of Asian American histories and identities. Certainly we have not maximized our ability to embrace our racialized intersections with gender, sexuality, economic status, and more. Here arise the roots of our supposed “apolitical” community. Many Asian and Asian American student efforts on campus have celebrated Asian cultures without sustaining a galvanized political energy or recognizing the inherent political nature of our identities in American society. Asian Americans have stood in solidarity with other political movements without underscoring the ways in which the political powers we hold allow us to do so. Our movement focuses on recentering Asian American scholarship and activism in the larger picture of American society and culture, and we hold that classroom instructions should include historical and ongoing Asian American experiences, as told from our perspectives.
Failure to recognize divergent identities of Asians and Asian Americans perpetuates the discrimination against and othering of our bodies and our histories. Ultimately these weaknesses have misguided our community from recognizing the positionality of Asian Americans on campus and beyond. False notions of the model minority myth and our homogeneity have allowed systems such as white supremacy to pit the Asian American community against other communities of color; consequently, we have internalized anti-blackness and other racist ideologies within our homes, classrooms, and selves. Research in ethnic studies has found the model minority stereotype of Asian Americans as a white normative racializing strategy that takes a toll on the health of our Asian-identified students. We believe that sustaining our movement will require us to stand in solidarity with other communities of color and to constantly practice critical reflection. These principles will enable us to understand and negotiate the complex privileges that Asian Americans hold and unshackle us from the oppression that limits our shared identity.
IV. Current Issues and Projects
The absence of an Asian American Studies Program impedes the voices of Asian American students, faculty, and staff from being represented and heard. In the Williams College community, this manifests in an intellectual, cultural, and political dearth. The absence of an Asian American Studies program also reinforces the impression to students, faculty, and staff that Asian American studies is not considered an intellectually important part of the curriculum nor as a valid subfield of American Studies.
However, while there are many logistical, bureaucratic, and institutional blockages that are preventing the establishment of Asian American Studies, we also must acknowledge the many issues that must be addressed within our own community that are also stifling our movement. One problem at the forefront of our consciousness as a collective is the lack of representation of Pacific Islanders both on the Williams campus as a whole and in our movement. There is an embarrassingly small number of Pacific Islander students at Williams, which also inherently influences the composition of our movement as well. Thus, we must be especially intentional about the way that we advocate for Asian American Studies and navigate the fact that key voices from the movement are missing due to factors that are beyond our control. We have chosen to advocate for Asian American Studies rather than Asian Pacific American Studies while recognizing that an inclusive and fully immersive program would include Pacific Islander Studies in its rubric.
Additionally, it is imperative that the movement’s structure is built upon a framework centering the recognition and active deconstruction of the existence of anti-blackness within the Asian/American community. The movement must be founded on frequent and consistent critical reflection upon our work so as not to perpetuate the anti-blackness that Asian/American communities possess and that the model minority myth has ingrained into our consciousness. For instance, it is neither productive nor appropriate to argue that we need Asian American Studies because Latinx Studies and Africana Studies exist at Williams. In recognizing our positionality, we must use rhetoric that supports our cause in a way that does not fall within — and subsequently reinforce — the racial hierarchy that we are forced into by a white supremacist society.
Toward the end of establishing Asian American Studies at Williams College and beyond, as of summer 2018, we are undertaking the following series of immediate projects:
Establishing and maintaining a website documenting the Asian American Studies movement at Williams
Running photo campaigns revealing the gaps in our Williams education
Engaging with the Curricular Planning Committee (CPC) and Asian American Studies Working Group to guarantee the creation of an Asian American Studies program by 2023
Conducting archival research on the history of Asian American activism at Williams
Coalition-building within Williams and with other Asian American Studies organizations across the country
Reaching out to external media organizations and parties in support of Asian American Studies
Looking further beyond these immediate projects, our longer term goals include:
Guaranteeing the continual success of the Asian Pacific American Studies program
Establishing an Asian American Studies major
Providing support to other movements to ensure the completion of a holistic Williams curriculum