“I asked Professor [of Japanese Kyoko] Omori if I could do a project about Yakuza films — which are like gangster movies,” recalled Jason Le ’23. Encouraged by Omori to pursue a topic with a bit more immediate social relevance, Le turned his attention to Asian and Asian American films in general. “And she said that was a wonderful idea,” he said.
The project, undertaken last winter, ultimately became a nearly 100-page paper written by Le and two others, Nyaari Kothiya ’23 and Anna Sakamoto ’23. The trio watched a number of Asian and Asian American movies and dissected key themes, in addition to relaying personal narratives concerning their individual experiences being Asian or Asian American. This summer, alongside eight more students, Le, Kothiya, and Sakamoto turned their attention to Hamilton itself by examining the experiences of Asian and Asian Americans at the College from a holistic standpoint.
Three teams of students each focused on a different topic — Crystal Lin ’23, Maya Nguyen-Haberneski ’23, Min Yu Huang’24, and Rachel Lu ’22 conducted historical research on Asian and Asian Americans at Hamilton; a second team of Allie Lee Hoffman ’23, Khulsen Tulga ’23, and Michelle Liu ’23 looked at statistics from the College’s Office of Institutional Research; a third team of Sakamoto, Le, Kothiya, and Michelle Zheng ’24 collected personal narratives. In addition to Omori, Professors Pavitra Sundar and Steven Yao in the Literature and Creative Writing Department advised the three groups.
Their combined work will be displayed on a website, Asians at Hamilton, which is still under development. Team three said they are focusing on gathering and editing interviews, adding that all the groups have been developing a base of knowledge with which to inform further research. “We spent two weeks, with meetings three times a week, trying to talk about critical race theory,” Kothiya said. “In order to study race, you have to know what race is and how it came to be.”
Though it is still fairly early in the process, Sakamoto said they expect to see plenty of common themes emerge in the personal narratives. Reflecting on their own time at Hamilton, the members of team three noted that the Asian and Asian American student experiences tend to vary by person, with some feeling more supported and comfortable than others. Team two recently concluded a survey of Asians and Asian Americans on campus that collected information on their experiences.
With this variation in mind, the group plans to propose steps that can be taken to improve, across the board, life on the hill for Hamilton’s Asian and Asian-American students. For this, they will also consult alumni and faculty, in order to design a thoughtful and thorough way forward. As with everything that will be coming out of this project, a plan for “what’s next” is included under a designated tab on the website.
About the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center
Recognizing its long tradition of preparing graduates for public service and active citizenship, Hamilton College established the Levitt Center in 1980. It is named for Arthur Levitt Sr., a longtime New York State public servant with an outstanding reputation for efficiency and probity. The Center encourages students to combine academic knowledge with practical skills as they engage in public affairs through research, field studies, community-based learning, lectures, discussion, and practice. Levitt Center programming is open to students and faculty across all disciplines and departments and is organized around programs that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and discussion, innovative research and pedagogy, and positive social change.