Ethnic Studies Proponents Plan Advocacy Efforts

Proponents of ethnic studies at Harvard coordinated advocacy efforts and discussed the field’s fraught history at a Wintersession workshop entitled “Ethnic Studies: Past, Present, and Future” Friday.

At the event, students and alumni emphasized the need to recruit new ethnic studies advocates, as many of the movement’s organizers will soon graduate.

While the push for an ethnic studies program at Harvard is not new, the Wintersession workshop was the first of its kind, according to workshop organizer Diana K. Nguyen ’15. Most recently, a group of students circulated a petition in November calling for the creation of an ethnic studies department and research center, as well as more faculty in the field.

According to organizer Itzel L. Vasquez-Rodriguez ’17, the Wintersession workshop is a continuation of a discussion started at an October “teach-in” co-sponsored by Concilio Latino, Native Americans at Harvard College, and the Task Force for Asian and Pacific American Studies. At the teach-in, Nguyen presented research on the history of activism for ethnic studies at Harvard, discussing past proposals for ethnic studies programs that the University rejected.

“[The Wintersession workshop was] looking toward a future-oriented action, rather than the teach-in, which was very much past-focused,” she said. Nguyen and other organizers brainstormed potential allies for their cause and next steps in their path to advocating for an ethnic studies program.

In an email last fall, College spokesperson Rachael Dane noted the existence of academic departments and programs such as African and African American Studies; East Asian Languages and Civilizations; and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, as well as the secondary field in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights. Dane could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Tessa L. Desmond, the administrative director of the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights, spoke about current offerings in ethnic studies at the University.

"We are uniquely poised to develop a program that might be a national leader on [ethnic studies],” she said. EMR currently cross-lists various ethnic studies courses from around the University and offers an undergraduate secondary degree.

Shelly C. Lowe, executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program, also spoke to attendees about the history of Native American program and made the case for an program in indigenous studies. The program operates out of the University President and Provost offices and aims to promote the study of indigenous culture.

Student attendees also spent the morning and afternoon discussing how students could serve as effective advocates for an expanded ethnic studies program.

“I think what we’ve seen so far has been very informative and [lays] a good groundwork for how we go about advocating for this work, because a large part of it is knowing what you’re advocating for and why and what the history has been here,” Vasquez-Rodriguez said.

Because Vazquez-Rodriguez and Juhwan Seo ’17, one of the effort's leaders, will both be graduating in the spring, they are looking for the next generation of ethnic studies advocates, Vazquez-Rodriguez said.

“We’re hoping to keep this as a continuous movement especially after some of the main organizers graduate,” she said. “So we’re looking to actively mentor younger students and make sure this continues beyond graduation for us.”

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at joshua.florence@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

—Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at mia.karr@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.

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