Not Your Model Minority: Struggles for Affirmative Action and Asian American Studies

As a group of students involved in the Asian American Studies Movement (AASM)—from various ethnic, religious, and class backgrounds—our Claiming Williams event aims to draw the thru-line between necessary conversations around affirmative action within and beyond Asian American students on campus and AASM’s necessary fight for AAS and all ethnic studies programs at the college. How did our intersectional identities determine how we arrived in an institution like Williams? Given the possibilities and limits of institutionalization, how do we build alternative ideas and approaches using the resources of the institution—and simultaneously try to expand beyond it—while we are here?

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court upending affirmative action on college campuses in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC, we have been grappling with the varied positionalities of Asian American communities in relation to the affirmative action decision. Why do white anti-affirmative action activists, such as Edward Blum, refer to Asian American students as opponents of holistic admission policies? Specifically, we are questioning the complicity of certain Asian Americans in the anti-affirmative action movement and considering the harms of this discourse. How does fighting against affirmative action constitute anti-Blackness and propel the model minority myth? Who is considered part of the model minority framework, and how does it perpetually harm Asian American communities and other communities of color? This will also be an opportunity to shed light on class, ethnic, and gender differences which challenge monolithic images of Asian American communities.

Last December, following decades of organized teach-ins, poster campaigns, and a petition to support the formation of Asian American Studies (AAS) at Williams, faculty voted to form the program. In its inaugural year, AAS faces challenges related to staffing, the immediate need for an administrative assistant, retention of faculty of color, and institutional support required to maintain a robust program. At the same time as we advocate for these resources, we problematize how the formation of an AAS program coincides with the cutting of Black history and Africana Studies programs nationwide. We will discuss how this is part of a historical pattern of attempting to use Asian American histories and communities as a racial “wedge. The recent development of AAS offers the opportunity and responsibility to build coalitions with Africana, Indigenous, and Latinx Studies as we collectively demand resources while facing a rhetoric of scarcity.

9:15 – 10:45 AM in Wachenheim Science Center, Room 113. Co-sponsored by AASiA and AAS Student Committee