Students at Williams College in western Massachusetts are demanding the liberal arts college create an Asian American Studies major to educate more students about the minority group’s experience.

At a café just around the corner from the Williams campus in the Berkshires, students crammed for final exams. Sitting in the back, Junior Tyler Tsay, an American Studies major, had something else on his mind as well.

“It's very necessary to have an Asian American Studies program, if only to complete the American Studies program that already exists on campus,” Tsay said.

The 21-year-old from Pasadena, Calif., the son of Tawainese and Korean immigrants, leads a student group on campus called Asian American Students in Action, which is demanding that Williams recognize a major within the next five years.

In April, to make its case, his group disrupted Admitted Students Day.

“We wanted to make it clear that this movement is something that shouldn’t be ignored anymore,” Tsay explained.

This small campaign at Williams is part of a growing national movement.

Students at Temple, Amherst, Duke and Yale are demanding Asian American Studies programs. Next fall, Princeton will launch one. The push has been off and on for decades, but today there are only about 30 programs. Most are located at public universities in the West.

"The Asian American population is still heavily concentrated in the West Coast, particularly California," said Paul Watanabe, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, which has the only Asian American Studies program in Massachusetts that offers a major. Watanabe, who is Japanese American and whose parents were interned during World War II, suggested that traditional and elite colleges like Williams and Harvard reconsider the value of Asian American Studies.

"You can't talk about the immigration history of the United States without talking about the Chinese Exclusion Act," Watanabe said. "You can't talk about issues like World War II or even the current so-called war on terror without talking about the links between the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans."

Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic group in United States and Massachusetts.

At Williams, Asians and Asian Americans make up about 17 percent of the student body, but Tsay said they often feel socially and academically marginalized, in part, because the Williams faculty is just 10 percent Asian or Asian American. That’s why his group also wants the college to hire more social scientists who specialize in Asian American studies.

“I think that having that legitimization of the Asian American experience on an institutional level is very important for guiding how we interact with each other as students as people on a daily basis,” Tsay said.

Williams administrators said they understand the argument that Tsay and other students are making. The campus already offers black and Latino programs, but they won’t commit to creating Asian American Studies.

Dean of Faculty Lee Park, who is Korean American, said creating one, although it sounds simple, is quite complicated.

“Asian American Studies isn't the only curricular area that there might be interest from students or from faculty in developing, but we don't have unlimited resources in terms of the number of faculty lines,” Park said.

While students want Williams to diversify its faculty, Park said federal law constrains how the college can pursue that goal.

“We can’t carry out race-based hiring for any group,” Park said.

Student activists, though, feel administrators have ignored them for too long.

“Being a person of color at Williams is an experience that isn’t really paid a lot of attention to,” said sophomore Rheia Jiang, 19, a Chinese American who is from San Diego. Jiang says an Asian American Studies program at Williams would make her feel more at home.

“I often find myself struggling to speak up when I really do feel a need to, precisely because I have been trained to be quiet,” Jiang said. “As an Asian American woman, I’m often expected to not complain about anything and just take everything as it is.”

This summer, Jiang and other student activists are planning to speak up and urge wealthy alumni to withhold donations until Williams commits to an Asian American Studies program.

This post has been updated.