HomeAsian AmericansWilliams College approves Asian Am Studies program

Williams College approves Asian Am Studies program

Williams College faculty recently voted to approve the establishment of an Asian American studies (AAS) concentration beginning Fall 2023. 

Chair of the Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA) and Professor of English Stephen Tifft told The Williams Record that the college is “the first small liberal arts college in New England to establish such a program. This follows a nationwide movement for the creation of similar programs at other universities, such as those at the Five College Consortium and the Claremont Colleges.

The vote during a Dec. 7 faculty meeting was a victory for the Asian American Studies in Action (AASiA) advocacy group at Williams, who organized for the past 34 years to institute such a program, according to The Williams Record

“In our op-ed from a couple of months ago, we wrote that we hoped that this movement wouldn’t ever reach its 35th year,” AASiA co-Chair Frances Leung ‘25 told The Williams Record. “Even when we wrote that, there was this sense of reality that it probably might reach its 35th year. The fact that it won’t, because it just got passed today, is proving my doubts wrong… It’s very happy and very surreal.” 

The accepted proposal for the program referenced the rise in anti-Asian racism and spike in attacks against Asian people during the COVID-19 pandemic, rendering the “curricular importance” of AAS “indisputable.”

“Indeed, this legacy has structured Asian American racialization not only politically and legally, but also culturally, intellectually, psychologically, economically, and symbolically,” the proposal said, according to The Williams Record. “A strong and well-supported Asian American studies program can teach the history merely touched upon here, thereby impacting communities large and small.”

The proposal also speaks on how the institution of an AAS program at the college could benefit students in discussing the Asian American experience.

“Students taking Asian American studies courses time and time again remark on how significant the courses are for learning about identity; how vital Asian American community-building is for mental health and coping with racism; and how an AAS program would be a formal acknowledgement of the lived experiences of Asian Americans by the institution,” the proposal said. “These are aspects of institutionalization we consider inseparable from their academic import.”

The concentration consists of five-course requirements, including an introductory course, a senior seminar, and three electives taken across at least two academic divisions. 

According to the CEA, such courses already exist at the college. The expansion of Asian American studies faculty and courses in other departments also made them “confident that there is adequate staffing for launching the program,” according to a Nov. 28 memorandum the CEA sent to faculty.

“The proposal mounts a strong argument that AAS — a field distinct from both Asian studies and American studies and offering its own theories, methodologies, and topics — will nonetheless allow from its own vantage point for a fruitful overlap with and enrichment of those fields and will stimulate processes of reconceiving the many disciplines it shares,” Tifft told The Williams Record. “The CEA feels that a robust AAS program would serve Williams’ commitment to equity and to its educational mission.”

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