Summers Says Latino Studies Dept. Unlikely

Responding to student requests for a Latino studies department, University President Lawrence H. Summers has suggested that Harvard does not need such a department.

Summers’ response—a letter addressed to RAZA President Maribel Hernandez ’04 and Luis S. Hernandez, a Divinity School student who co-chairs Concilio Latino—comes after the two students presented him with a petition at his office hours last week calling for the creation of a Latino studies department. The petition had over 100 signatures.

After that meeting they said they were upset by Summers’ comments regarding ethnicity-based studies.

In the letter, Summers points to existing avenues students can pursue to fulfill their interest in Latino studies, such as becoming involved with the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. The Center offers a certificate in Latin American studies.

“Harvard has an extraordinary array of institutional resources dedicated to the study of these questions...The trajectory of recent years has been a positive one,” Summers wrote.

He also warned against “narrowly defined administrative or curricular entities,” referring to a previously-adopted statement by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Committee on Ethnic Studies.

Maribel Hernandez said she appreciated Summers’ quick reply, but said she was disappointed that he did not directly address the feasibility of future policy changes.

“The letter was more positive than the meeting, but he didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know,” Maribel Hernandez said.

She also said Summers’ letter shows that he doesn’t understand a fundamental point that she and others have made about Latino studies.

“We have repeatedly mentioned that Latino studies does not fall under Ethnic Studies, but rather area studies because it studies an area of the globe—not just an ethnicity,” Maribel Hernandez said.

Existing tracks for Hispanic and Latin American studies, she said, are only available to Spanish-speakers, and thus are not available to all students.

Summers’ letter also said he was “disappointed” that Luis Hernandez and Maribel Hernandez shared the contents of their meeting with both members of RAZA and the press.

The students told the Boston Globe and The Crimson that Summers was unreceptive to the idea of a Latino studies department.

They also said he undermined the importance of the Afro-American Studies Department by saying, “because African Americans were so central to the Civil War...perhaps it warrant[s] a separate department.”

In the letter, Summers reaffirmed his commitment to the Afro-American studies department.

“The members of our Afro-Am department, individually and collectively, have done much to enhance education and scholarship at Harvard,” he wrote.

Despite Summers’ disapproval, Maribel Hernandez said she felt it was necessary to publicize the meeting.

“We owed it to the people supporting this to make our discussion public,” she said.

—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellero can be reached at vascell@fas.harvard.edu.