Ethnic Studies' Future

News Feature

In order to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley students must fulfill a requirement in American cultures.

A student may take a course in any department that deals comparatively with any three of the five major ethnic groups in the United States--Euro-Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans.

"We want students to be exposed to the experiences of various racial groups," says Berkeley Professor LingChi Wang, head of the school's Asian-American studies program. "It's a way of engaging students in talking about race."

Extensive ethnic studies programs at other schools upset student advocates of ethnic studies at Harvard, who see a dearth of this sort of programming in the College's curriculum.

"We need courses particularly focused on ethnic studies. It simply isn't addressed in most courses," says Irene C. Cheng '97, president of the Asian American Association and a member of the Ethnic Studies Action Committee (ESAC).

Students at Harvard have been pushing for permanent--but elective--ethnic studies courses for nearly 20 years.

Coalitions of groups have faded in and out. ESAC and the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations are currently the best organized advocates of an ethnic studies curriculum.

Over the years, students have organized protests at Junior Parents' Weekend and hunger strikes on the steps of Widener Library.

And last spring, the AAC, presented a 300-page proposal to Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and the Committee on Ethnic Studies chaired by Thomson Professor of Government Jorge I. Dominguez, asking for increased Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) commitment to ethnic studies.

But despite the hope of student advocates that "we have conquered that hurdle," debate at Harvard still focuses on the question of whether ethnic studies is a viable discipline.

Knowles says he defines ethnic studi very broadly, as "the study of race and ethnicity in the United States and worldwide."

Students, however, say that ethnic studies must be viewed much more specifically, as Asian American studies, Native American studies and American Latino studies.

"Ethnic studies is not the same thing as area studies," says Evelyn Hu-deHart, professor of history and director of the Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America (CSERA) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

"The origin of area studies is tied to colonialism and imperialism. We developed [area studies] for the colonial and later imperial powers to understand these native societies," she adds.

Currently, students interested in studying ethnic studies at Harvard can consult a 50-page brochure available from the Office of the Dean For Undergraduate Education, University Hall 17.