We talked a little bit about cultural studies at Williams earlier in the week. Today, keeping with that theme, we turn our attentions to this record article:

The administration’s response to students’ demands for more Asian American studies courses and professors specializing in Asian American studies has proven lackluster. At the panel, it was stated that the administration has suggested that student demand for Asian American studies is insufficient. The administration thinks that it would be more fruitful to dedicate the College’s resources to an area in which courses have traditionally been more popular and overenrolled, such as economics.

Shameful! We ought not to be just offering what’s already popular. My thoughts:

1) While I equivocate on the value of cultural studies generally, I don’t find any reasons not to hire an Asian-Americanist to the faculty convincing.  All reasons to have Africana or Latino studies stand as fine reasons to offer more courses in Asian American studies.

2) Although I struggle to find good principles here. What is our metric for what subfields of ethnic/cultural studies deserve our attention? Is our standard rough proportionality of offered courses to population? Native Americans comprise about a percentage point of the U.S population, and a total of four students at Williams.  Should we be offering a major/concentration in Native American studies? I ask that honestly, and w/o facetiousness.

Moreover, the College’s American studies major is incomplete without Asian American studies courses. An examination of Asian American issues is essential to understanding America as a whole. Also, the College is not in a position to say that there is insufficient demand for Asian American studies courses if students do not even have the option of taking an Asian American course every semester.

3) Essential? Okay, does that hold for the study of every ethnic group of size in the US? Or is there something about Asian-Americans that’s supposed to be supranormally edifying? I’m on board w/ expanding Asian American studies, but, I don’t know that I’m not also for expanding the race critical studies of other ethnicities, too!

For example, we don’t have any dedicated, tenured professors in Arabic. Maybe we should have one. And what about people of/from the Indian Subcontinent? Asian-American studies could, technically, include them too but it seems “Asian” is usually construed to mean “East Asian” at Williams.

Someone, either in the administration or among the growing swell of student activists, needs to sit down and have a long think about what our approach to cultural studies is generally — what courses to offer, what faculty to hire, what departments to found. Every student lobby to hire more professors of X discipline is going to fail if we can’t find a way to frame this holistically and lay down operative standards of what to teach.

Alas, I am not the person to figure any of these things out. But, perhaps you are? If so, Ephblog is always looking for new authors!

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