Williams welcomes a new major in Africana studies and a program in Asian American studies.

Starting in fall 2023, Williams will offer a new major in Africana studies and a concentration in Asian American studies. Both developments are the culmination of extensive advocacy, research and planning and were approved by faculty votes in the fall. 

Students have argued for an Africana studies major for decades, advocacy that initially led to the creation of an Afro-American studies program. As the program—and interest in it—grew, the department thoroughly studied the implications of developing a new, nine-course major consisting of three required courses and six electives. The major builds on the current concentration’s two required courses and three electives. The concentration will no longer be offered starting in 2026, once the major is fully implemented. 

“The Africana studies major offers students a unique journey through the Williams curriculum that illuminates Black resistance movements against colonialism and the spiritual, artistic and political imaginaries that have remade landscapes across the world,” says James Manigault-Bryant, chair and professor of Africana studies.

Manigault-Bryant adds, “No less important is that the Africana studies major will prepare our students to critically interpret and contest ongoing political efforts to misname Black intellectual traditions, and silence the presence of Black people across the world. While the new major places Williams at the forefront of liberal arts education, there remains an urgency to continue to expand the scope of Africana studies for our learning environment.”

Students also advocated for developing an Asian American studies program beginning in the early 1990s. The new concentration consists of five required courses and three electives. The vote makes Williams “the first small liberal arts college in New England to establish such a program,” Stephen Tifft, professor of English and chair of the Committee on Educational Affairs, told The Williams Record in the fall.

“The interdisciplinary possibilities tied to the Asian American studies program are exciting,” says Jan Padios, chair and associate professor of American studies, who presented the proposal for the Asian American studies program to the faculty in December. “Asian American studies includes social scientists, environmental humanists, literature scholars, performance studies scholars, psychologists and more.” 

Padios adds, “Something this momentous needs to be a collaborative effort, and I’m so glad to say it was. I am not alone in hoping that Africana studies and Asian American studies at Williams become a way to strengthen how students and the larger campus community understand race and racism, colonialism and empire, immigration and diaspora, war and militarism, and so much more.

With the creation of an Africana studies major, Williams will now offer 37 majors across three academic divisions (languages and the arts, social sciences, and science and mathematics). Majors encompass 25 departments and range from Astrophysics and Art to Chemistry and Political Science. In addition, the college offers several concentrations and special programs. 

Learn more about areas of study at Williams.  

Published February 13, 2023

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