Foes Debate Ethnic Studies

Students Consider Merits of Creating New Department

Students from opposite sides on the debate over the creation of an ethnic studies department at Harvard discussed its merits before an audience of about 50 students last night.

Julie Suk '97, the former managing editor of Perspective, spoke in favor of having a separate department and called the creation of an ethnic studies department "a creative institutional response to a need that wasn't being fulfilled."

Suk also said the faculty's current offerings are unsatisfactory.

"It may be a very good idea that we should pursue ethnic studies within existing departments, but that hasn't happened," Suk said. "If we have to create a separate department to make ethnic studies a priority, that that's what we'll do".

However, the two speakers opposed to an ethnic studies department, Douglas M. Gordon '97, former president of the Salient, and Charles A. Goodman '97 expressed their reservations about the academic validity of creating such a program.

The proposed department, composed of different fields such as Latino studies and Asian-American studies, covers too broad and diverse a spectrum, Goodman said.

"The deep dark secret of ethnic studies is that it doesn't have a unified subject matter," Goodman said.

However, Suk argued that ethnic studies is united in the study of race and ethnicity within society.

"Both of these points miss a fun- damental theme, that ethnic studies is trying to understand the concept of race and ethnicity," she said.

But creating an ethnic studies department would only marginalize the subject matter that it seeks to promote, Goodman said.

"Ethnic studies could plausibly be described as an academic ghetto," he said.

Gordon said that one way of promoting ethnic studies and encouraging students to take such classes would be to offer ethnic studies courses within larger departments such as English or History.

"The best way to ensure that people like me who wouldn't think of concentrating in Latino studies take classes in Latino studies is to include it in a larger department," he said.

Goodman and Gordon also said they believe that an ethnic studies department would offer a skewed political perspective.

"It's a political movement masquerading as a discipline," Goodman said.

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