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Student Activism Now

The Asian and Pacific American Action Committee (formerly Asian American Studies Working Group) is a student-led advocacy group focused on promoting and growing Asian American, Middle Eastern, and Pacific Islander spaces, faculty, classes, and intersectional programming at Amherst College. The APAAC employs a variety of mediums, including but not limited to demonstrations, faculty and student panels, photo campaigns, film screenings, and close partnerships with faculty and the administration. Since 1972, student activists have advocated for the establishment of an Asian/Pacific/American Studies major at Amherst College. Today, the APAAC continues working toward this goal, with support from other affinity groups on campus.


Past Student Activism
A history of Asian American Studies at A


Frequently Asked Questions

What is Asian/Pacific/American Studies?


Asian/Pacific/American Studies is an interdisciplinary field examining the histories, cultures, and socio-political developments of Asian diasporic communities in the United States. Established in the 1970s to address an inequitable and long standing gap in education and research, Asian/Pacific/American Studies seeks to call attention to the contributions and experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and the important heterogeneity within these communities. Bringing together diverse perspectives from the humanities and social sciences and closely informed by African American Studies, Native American Studies, and Latinx Studies, the discipline is especially attuned to issues including colonialism, immigration, racial formation, and transnationalism.


How is Asian/Pacific/American Studies different from Asian Studies?


While Asian Studies focuses on the histories and experiences of people who live in Asia, Asian/Pacific/American Studies covers topics that pertain to the histories and experiences of Asian people and Pacific Islanders who live in the United States. 


What kinds of courses on Asian/Pacific/American Studies does Amherst offer each semester?


The following Asian/Pacific/American Studies courses will be available in Spring 2021:

  1. ENGL-366: Asian American Writing Across/Between Genres

    1. Students in this course will read works by contemporary Asian-American authors that defy and/or exceed genre expectations and examine these texts’ relationship to wholeness and hybridity. This is not an introductory course on “Asian-American literature,” but a course that will interrogate the term “Asian-American,” both as a marker of identity and of literary genre.

  2. AMST/HIST-374: WWII and Japanese Americans

    1. Students in this course will study the largest incidence of forced removal in American history: the U.S. incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during WWII, two-thirds of whom were American citizens. This course will examine the historical background leading to these events, Japanese American resistance to official actions, and other pertinent topics. 


Here are a few other courses that have been offered in the past few years:


  1. Recurring:

    1. The Asian American Experience

    2. Model Minorities: Jewish and Asian Americans

    3. Asian American History: Key Turning Points

    4. Reading Asian American (First-year seminar)

  2. Spring 2019

    1. The Latin American Philippines

    2. Making Asians: Asian Americans in Literature and Law

    3. Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

  3. Fall 2019

    1. Asian Pacific American Sports: Clever Headers and Warriors



How are new faculty hired at Amherst?


(Source: Amherst website) Recommendations for all appointments at the level of assistant professor, associate professor, and professor originate with the department or the committee responsible and are discussed by the chair of the department with the provost and dean of the faculty or the president. For all such positions, the authorization to search requires the approval of the president or the provost and dean of the faculty, after consultation with the appropriate departments or committees and with the Committee on Educational Policy on the nature and ranking of the position.


For more information, visit the following resources on the Amherst website: 


What is the Committee on Educational Policy?


(Source: Amherst website) The Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) is composed of faculty members, the dean of faculty, and student members. The CEP is expected to review and evaluate, and to report to the faculty on, the general educational policy of the college; to consider suggestions from departments or from individual faculty members or students relating to changes in educational policy, including proposals for new courses, new programs, and altered major programs or honors requirements; and to make recommendations to the Committee of Six and the faculty. The Committee on Educational Policy advises the president and the provost and dean of the faculty about the allocation of faculty positions to departments. In making recommendations for such allocations, the committee considers, inter alia, the curricular needs of individual departments and the commitment of departments to offer courses that meet identified college-wide priorities and curricular needs.


What can I do to support Asian/Pacific/American Studies at Amherst?


  • Donate to AAAN. Any funds exceeding our overhead costs will be consolidated towards supporting Asian/Pacific/American Studies at Amherst. Your donation will help to demonstrate a strong support of A/P/A Studies amongst alumni.

  • Write to President Biddy Martin and Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein and CC

  • Join our volunteer network to support student activists in their advocacy efforts

  • Sign up to speak at an AAAN or Amherst student organization event on topics related to A/P/A Studies

Alumni in A/P/A Studies


Stephen Sumida '68 | Professor Emeritus at University of Washington

Prior to returning to the University of Washington where he earned his Ph.D. in English in 1982, Stephen H. Sumida taught in the Department of English Language and Literature and Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan (1990-1998), the Departments of Comparative American Cultures and English and the American Studies Program at Washington State University (1981-1990), and the English and American Studies Departments of the University of Hawaii (1970-1980). He committed his scholarship and teaching to Asian American literary studies in 1975, when he became the coordinator of the Pacific Northwest Asian American Writers' Conference, held at the University of Washington in 1976. He went on to be a co-founder of Talk Story Inc., a cultural organization for developing research, creativity, and study in Hawaii's literature and arts. This activity continues today in Hawai'i. From 1986 to 1990 Sumida was a member and chair of the Committee on the Literatures and Languages of America, of the Modern Language Association of America, where scholars in Native American, African American, Chicano/a, Puerto Rican, and Asian/Pacific American literatures, were among the first to construct a view of a multicultural American literature. Sumida went on to serve as President of the Association for Asian American Studies and the American Studies Association. In 2007-2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Professorship to teach in Tokyo, at the distinguished Tsuda College and Tokyo Institute of Technology. He has participated in American Studies projects and given lectures widely around the world, in tune with his American Studies Association presidential themes of a respect for international scholarship in the field and constant attention to how internationalism and US ethnic studies impact each other. In 2011 Sumida has been honored with the James Dolliver Visiting Professorship in the Humanities at the University of Puget Sound.

Josephine Park '94 | Professor of English at University of Pennsylvania

Josephine Park is a member of the faculty steering committee of the Asian American Studies Program, and she specializes in twentieth-century American literature and culture, with an emphasis on American Orientalism and Asian American literature. She is the author Apparitions of Asia: Modernist Form and Asian American Poetics (Oxford 2008), which reads a modern history of American literary alliances with East Asia and was awarded the Literary Book Award by the Association for Asian American Studies, and Cold War Friendships: Korea, Vietnam, and Asian American Literature (Oxford 2016), which examines Asian American subjectivities shaped by wartime alliances in Korea and Vietnam. She is the co-editor (with Paul Stasi) of Ezra Pound in the Present: Essays on Pound's Contemporaneity (Bloomsbury 2016). Her teaching interests include minority literature, American poetry, theories of race and subject formation, modernism, and cold war cultural studies.

Julia Lee '95 | Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at UC Irvine

My book-in-progress, “The Racial Railroad” makes the case that the train is one of the exemplary contact zones through which American literary and cultural texts explore questions of racial subjectivity, community, and conflict. The railroad has played – and continues to play – a crucial role in the formation and perception of racial identity and difference in the United States. This is not to say that all or even most writers who represent racial difference set their works on the railroad, and indeed, there are many places that Americans have come to associate with racial interactions over the past hundred years (e.g., ethnic urban enclaves, the back of a bus, the Mall in Washington D.C., a raft on the Mississippi River). The railroad car, however, is distinct from these other locations in that it is multi-layered and multi-scalar, operating across many registers of meaning both as an invocation of and a depository for all kinds of social, historical, and political narratives great and small. The texts that I will analyze in “The Racial Railroad” range widely in terms of media, genre, time period, and racial politics. They include Currier and Ives’ painting “Across the Continent” (1868), María Ruiz de Burton’s The Squatter and the Don (1885), Willa Cather’s “Chinese” short stories (c. 1900), James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man (1912), advertisements for leisure travel on the Northern Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads, John Ford’s silent epic film The Iron Horse (1924), Ralph Ellison’s “Boy on a Train” (composed c. 1937, published in 1996), Flannery O’Connor’s “The Artificial Nigger” (1955), Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dune (1999), Frank Chin’s works, Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men (1980), Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer (2013), Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger (2013), and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (2016). By putting a variety of texts in conversation with other, “The Racial Railroad” demonstrates how and why the train is a particularly important topos in narratives of racial (dis)identification across racial and ethnic lines. Drawing from such a vast literary and cultural archive also enables me to craft an alternative narrative through which to organize American literary history, one that takes into consideration a synchronic conception of literary formation as well as the more traditional, diachronic one.

Ian Shin '06 | Assistant Professor of History and Asian American Studies at University of Michigan

I am a social and cultural historian of the United States. My research and teaching focus on Asian American history and on the history of the U.S. in the Pacific World between 1850 and 1950. I come to this work as a first-generation American who was born in Hong Kong, grew up in California, and spent the past decade and a half on the East Coast. My work is guided not only by my training in historical methods but also by my dedication to critical race and ethnic studies.

I am currently working on several projects. My book manuscript—entitled Imperfect Knowledge: Chinese Art and American Power in the Transpacific Progressive Era—examines Chinese art collecting in the U.S. in the early 20th century as a contested process of knowledge production that bolstered ideas of American exceptionalism, even while it relied on transpacific circuits of labor and expertise. Additionally, I am working on articles about the Boy Scout movement in New York’s Chinatown and about the forgotten history of interracial adoption of white children by Chinese parents during the Exclusion Era. I recently completed a book chapter on the role of colleges and universities in U.S.-China relations and Asian immigration in the long 19th century, using Amherst College as a case study. 

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