Standing Against AAPI Erasure

Contributing writers Karen Lee ’25 and Eleanor Lee ’25 call for solidarity in the fight for A/P/A studies and against the erasure of the work of AAPI student activists.

Tim Song '22 holding a protest sign at the Stop Asian Hate Rally in March 2021. Photo courtesy of Haoran Tong '23.

“Christina Yuna Lee. Michelle Alyssa Go. Si-Hui Fang. Mary Ye. Need I go on? … It shouldn’t have to take these Asian women being killed for us to learn that we are real, that we are intrinsically deserving to learn about our histories and our cultures. Why do we still not have an Asian Pacific American Studies major here?” – Karen Lee ’25

In February 2022, I stood in front of President Biddy Martin and demanded the establishment of an Asian/Pacific/American (A/P/A) studies major and department in my speech at the annual persuasive speaking competition.

This is not the first time that a student has advocated for the A/P/A studies major. What if we told you that our advocacy has lasted for longer than the college has been coed? Since 1972, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students at Amherst have championed the necessity to incorporate Asian American studies in their collegiate education — that makes 50 years and generations of students who have called for an A/P/A studies major.

Yet we still see relatively little change on campus. This doesn’t only apply to our demand for the establishment of an A/P/A studies major; our calls for action are often left on the backburner or erased entirely.

The Asian and Pacific American Action Committee (APAAC) and the Amherst Asian Alumni Network (AAAN) are the main organizations that lead AAPI activism at Amherst; however, not many know about the magnitude of their efforts. We want recognition and solidarity; we are asking you to stand with us in our fight for A/P/A studies.

The truth is, not many people care enough about the work of AAPI activists on campus, and the effects of that ignorance are violent. Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article quoting a current Amherst student about the discrimination against Asian American students in the college application process The student, a history major, claimed that the difficulties faced by Asian applicants to elite colleges would be solved if they instead chose  professions such as “trade and vocational schools … as well as the U.S. military.” Many students expressed their anger at this student’s argument. The article demonstrates that even history majors at this college are unaware of the implications of such a statement; it is as though we are predisposed to giving up on a college degree or even joining the military, without regard for our cultural values and the colonial trauma that the U.S. military has inflicted on our motherlands.

This is not the first time we have been disappointed in our peers. In the Spring 2022 Association of Amherst Students (AAS) Senate elections, we noticed that two candidates running for reelection claimed they would “work towards establishing an AAPI major.” When these two running senators were asked about how they planned to implement the major, they talked about “working with administration” and collaborating with the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP). Neither of these students mentioned APAAC, AAAN, or the Asian Students Association (ASA) in their answers.

We can also see the effects of AAPI erasure reproduced by the President’s Office and the administration. Following the Atlanta spa shooting in March 2021, President Biddy Martin sent an email addressing the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes across the nation. Although President Martin highlighted the college’s stance against racism and white supremacy in this message, she used the hiring of new Asian American studies professor, Christine Noelle Peralta, as an example of how the college can work toward enhancing “curricular offerings and community-wide intellectual strengths.” For the students who had worked hard to ensure Professor Peralta’s place at the college as Amherst’s first professor specializing in A/P/A studies, it was as though Professor Peralta’s hiring served as an ornament to a tragedy rather than a celebration of our progress. Additionally, President Martin did not include the recent cluster hire approval in her recent “Anti-Racism Plan Update” email, dismissing an incredible milestone that many students, alumni, and faculty have been working towards.

When ASA and APAAC organized the Stop Asian Hate rally last April, the Amherst College Instagram only credited the AAS and ASA for the success of the rally in their original caption. It was only after APAAC members Tim Song ’22 and Mica Nimkarn ’24 commented that it was “primarily the effort” of APAAC that “allowed for students to take part in the rally,” that Amherst College edited and included APAAC in their caption. We take issue with the lack of care for APAAC and AAS’ compliance in being credited as one of the organizers for the protest while students of APAAC had to fight for visibility.

Ainsley MacKenzie '22 walks toward the town common at the Stop Asian Hate Rally. Photo courtesy of Haoran Tong '23.

Our labor is not something to be taken for granted or used to fuel performative activism. We are not an afterthought. Our hard work and dedication should be named at the very least. Recognize APAAC, AAAN, ASA, and the students that actively help our cause and stand in solidarity with our demands. We deserve to be seen and heard — give credit where it is due.

You can help us. For one, you can read and sign the letter written by the AAAN demanding the establishment of an A/P/A Studies major at Amherst College. This can be your first step in demonstrating your support for us; at the very least, read the five demands that are listed.

Here are some other steps that we suggest you take: participate in APAAC-run events, take A/P/A studies-related courses to educate yourself about the history of Asians and Asian Americans, and make space for your Asian peers to speak about their experiences.

Once we secure your support, we can ensure that our activism continues to thrive on and off campus, that our students, alumni, and faculty don’t get burned out for their labor, and that we can finally work together toward instituting an A/P/A studies major here.

If you have thoughts on this or any of our articles, comment below or send us a letter by using this form or emailing [email protected].