About the AAPI Studies Program

Our History

Student and alumni activism from the past 50 years led to the development of AAPI Studies at Amherst College.

Community Interest—Past, Present, and Future 

Amherst students have advocated for AAPIS since 1972. In 1991, students wrote with gratitude in the Amherst Student about the offering of a single class by a visiting professor from Hampshire College. Over the years, the College has hired Five-College professors, but these arrangements proved too difficult to sustain.

Students took it upon themselves to get educated about AAPIS. In the words of an alum from the class of 1997, “We wrote several op-eds in the Amherst Student, and organized our own events and speakers, culminating in an Asian American Studies conference in the spring of 1997, which was attended by students from many colleges in New England. Our strategy was that if Amherst wouldn't bring Asian American Studies to us, then we would bring it to Amherst.”

In the aftermath of the Amherst Uprising of 2015, both the Asian and Pacific American Action Committee (APAAC) and the Amherst Asian Alumni Network (AAAN) were created. These organizations have actively pushed to install AAPIS. Students continued to organize, speak with administrator, hold teach-ins, launch a photo campaign, and more in pursuit of this major. The following is an abbreviated history of the many faculty, students, administrators, and alumni who helped bring this major to fruition:

  • 1980: Professor of English Barry O’Connell began teaching Amherst’s first Asian American studies classes, focusing on Asian American literature.
  • 1991: Asian American Studies Committee was established. Published a letter in The Student advocating for an AAPIS major.
  • 1994: Hired Professor Jan Lin, an Asian American studies professor.
  • 2000: Creation of the Five College A/P/A Certificate Program
  • 2015: In the aftermath of the Amherst Uprising of 2015, in which students protested racism on campus, students organized again for AAPIS and created both the Asian and Pacific American Action Committee (APAAC) and the Amherst Asian Alumni Network (AAAN). 
  • 2019: The Student unanimously agrees with the creation of the AAPIS major.
  • March 2021: APAAC and ASA holds a vigil in honor of the eight victims of the Atlanta spa shootings.
  • 2021: AAAN writes an open letter to President Biddy Martin & other members of the administration, calling for the establishment of the A/P/A studies major.
  • 2022: A/P/A professor cluster hire in the departments of economics, psychology, and English.
  • March 8th, 2024: Amherst College faculty vote to overwhelmingly support the creation of AAPI Studies, the first of its kind for a liberal arts college in the country.

Source: “A 50-year Fight for Belonging: The History of A/P/A Studies Advocacy at Amherst,” The Student