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October 2018

Student Activism

Student Activism: Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies

In September 2016, a group of students formed the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Studies Initiative as a response to the serious lack of professors and courses in the subject of AAPI Studies at Amherst College. The AAPI Studies Initiative's formation was catalyzed by a scheduled sabbatical of Professor Robert Hayashi, the only tenured Asian Americanist at the College. At that time, the only other specialist in AAPI Studies, visiting Professor Franklin Odo, was scheduled to conclude his term at the end of spring 2016. Without the addition of new faculty members, AAPI courses would not be offered in the following fall semester.


The insufficiency of AAPI representation in coursework and faculty inspired the AAPI Studies Initiative to meet continuously with President Biddy Martin and Dean Catherine Epstein throughout the 2015 - 2016 academic year. Initially, President Martin and Dean Epstein were hesitant to respond to the group's request for more AAPI Studies courses and faculty hires. They had concerns that AAPI Studies registration would be low and additionally, given the other hiring demands the College was negotiating at the time, that it would be difficult to allocate a full-time hire to AAPI Studies. In addition to meeting with President Martin and Dean Epstein, the AAPI Studies Initiative also met numerous times with The Committee of Six as well as numerous departments where they saw the potential to incorporate AAPI Studies into their existing course offerings. 

In November 2016, Professor Odo secured a three-year extension to his visiting professorship, which was subsequently extended an additional year in September 2018. This was due in part to student activism and pressure from the greater Amherst community. Additionally, President Martin made a commitment that the administration would search for a tenure-track Asian Americanist professor in the American Studies department. Consequently, in spring 2018, the College announced that Dr. Pawan Dhingra, a renowned Asian American Studies scholar, would join the American Studies department the following year.


In May 2018, the AAPI Studies Initiative met with President Martin and Dean Epstein with the following action items: 

  1. In fall 2018, begin a search for an Asian Americanist visiting professor for spring 2019.

  2. By 2020, hire an Asian Americanist visiting faculty to replace Professor Odo.

  3. By 2020, hire a tenure track Asian Americanist who specializes in gender and sexuality.

  4. After 2020, ensure that there are at least 4 Asian Americanist professors on campus each semester with at least one non-East Asian professor and one non-male identifying professor.

  5. By 2025, establish an AAPI Studies major.

  6. Meet at the beginning and end of each semester to update students on progress made.


Members of AAPI Studies Initiative, 2016

Class of 2018:

Senior Theses of Note

Senior Theses
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Young-Ji Cho's Thesis


​Young-Ji Cho ‘18, Art and English
In 2017, a character in a children’s book was twice more likely to be a rabbit than an Asian Pacific child. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done to amplify marginalized voices and address this serious lack of diversity in the publishing industry. For my project titled, Where Are My Heroes?, I respond to this problem by creating a series of biographical children’s picture books on Asian American figures. The main book I worked on chronicles Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist who formerly lived in the United States, known for her polka dots and immersive infinity rooms. The book follows her life, emphasizing the importance of perseverance and the potential for art to be a powerful healing mechanism. Through this project, I advocate for increased visibility and representation of all marginalized people as both subjects and creators of our stories. In doing so, I incorporate them into the greater fabric of American culture and history. After graduation, I hope to continue this project and form it into a published series. My email is


Andrew Kim ‘18, Mathematics and History
My thesis is titled Moving Across Time: A Comparative Analysis of the Asian American Movement and the Chol Soo Lee Coalition. I examine two contemporaneous socio-ethnic movements of the 1960s and 1970s that have greatly influenced the Asian American community. In my thesis, I underscore important social and political themes that have shaped both movements. These themes include cross-racial coalitions created among ethnic minorities, the role of the press as an agent of information and galvanization, and the ideological principles that have at times strengthened and weakened the two movements. After graduation, I will be working as a Business Analyst at Ion Group in New York City, NY.


Joon Kim ‘18, Mathematics and History
My thesis is titled Chasing Soju: A History. Many may be familiar with soju, a Korean distilled spirit, which is today considered Korea’s "national liquor." Yet the liquor’s most distinct features were actually only codified in the modern era. I found that before the Japanese colonial period, soju, in its traditionally distilled form, was only consumed by a small segment of the Korean population. It was only after soju was mass-produced during the colonial period that it became widely accessible. It was then that soju became the national liquor. It turns out that this object that we see as so central to Korean identity is laden with an uncomfortable history—by chasing soju through time, we find that we may need a chaser to stomach its history. I invite any Amherst alumni to reach out to me at to continue this conversation.

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David Lee ‘18, History and Environmental Studies
My thesis is titled How Did They Fail?: Churches’ and Community Organizations’ Role in Resolving Socioeconomic Tension and Interracial Hostility Between Korean-Americans and African-Americans Before the LA Riots (1990-1992). The thesis analyzes Korean-American and African-American relationships and the culmination of ethnic hostility between the two groups that led to the Los Angeles Riots. The Black-Korean conflict in Los Angeles perpetuated civil unrest and ethnic violence; however, my thesis focuses on the non-government actors’ (e.g., community organizations and churches) relationship to the interracial conflict. I conclude that these actors limited their own potential by failing to form stable interracial alliances, which resulted in misaligned agendas between ethnic-specific community organizations. After graduation, I will begin working at Parthenon-EY, in New York City. My future goals include traveling (when possible) and pursuing a dual JD/MBA degree.


Mashiyat Zaman ‘18, Asian Languages and Civilizations
My thesis investigates the intricate exchange between film genres in Watanabe Shinichiro’s 1998 anime series Cowboy Bebop. This anime series first aired in Japan in 1998 where it quickly gained a following not only due to its unique aesthetic, but also for its eclectic soundtrack and exploration of drama rarely explored in pop media. Its popularity only grew when its English dub was introduced to the United States, and since then, it has been widely considered one of the best anime series ever made. The series follows the daily lives of a group of bounty hunters aboard the spaceship Bebop. Not only has Cowboy Bebop remained largely untouched in scholarly writing despite its acclaim, but reviews have also limited its innovation to its so-called multicultural approach to storytelling, ignoring the series’ deep consideration of gender roles and sexuality. I use the western, film noir, and science fiction genres as frameworks for contextualizing the actions and depictions of the Bebop crew and demonstrate that, in the process of navigating their identities, the bounty hunters are empowered themselves. After graduation, I will begin working at Recruit Holdings in Tokyo. My goal over these next couple of years is to become fluent in Japanese and then return to the United States to pursue a graduate degree in Asian Studies, with an emphasis on media.


community profiles: 

dr. robert hayashi

Dr. Hayashi is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Environmental Studies at Amherst College. Since coming to Amherst in 2008, he has taught classes in Asian American Studies, ethnic literature, research methods, sports history, and public history. Read his full interview here

As a faculty member of color who is committed to social change and institutional change, you can feel like an unwelcome guest, but we are not guests. We are members of the community, and all we ask is for the same sort of unacknowledged and unblinking sense of familiarity, comfort, and ownership of this place that other people enjoy.

-Dr. Hayashi 

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Community Profile - Dr.Robert Hayashi
Interesting Reads - Fall 2018

interesting reads

Writer Min Jin Lee to teach at Amherst College, the Roads Trip Project, and the "Amherst Doesn't Teach Me" photograph campaign... Explore our interesting reads of fall 2018


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