A petition for a University-wide research center for race and ethnicity has garnered over 500 votes of support on an online forum for Harvard affiliates over the last week.
The petition, posted on Solution Space—a online platform developed by a University-wide diversity task force—quickly became by far the site’s most popular. Authored by founder of the Ethnic Studies Coalition Juhwan Seo ’17, it comes weeks comes after the Presidential Task Force for Inclusion and Belonging released a draft executive summary, which did not explicitly call for an ethnic studies program or center. Activists have requested such a program for years.
Seo’s petition envisioned the program “as a national hub” for ethnic studies.
“This center would support the study of race and ethnicity among Harvard’s 12 schools, including a robust undergraduate and graduate ethnic studies program within [the Faculty of Arts and Sciences], which has been the subject of 12 community-wide petitions in 45 years,” the petition reads.
The task force’s draft does include a proposal suggesting that Harvard create University-wide research centers for “Identity, Politics, and Culture” and “Inclusion and Belonging.” But after the draft’s release, ethnic studies advocates raised concerns about the lack of language addressing race and ethnicity throughout the report, especially in relation to ethnic studies.
Government professor and task force co-chair Danielle S. Allen has called ethnic studies a “College-specific” issue. Seo’s petition calls for a University-wide center, rather than just one for the College, a change he hopes will allow the task force “to actually incorporate our views while also making recommendations that the University can actually implement.”
“After we did some advocacy to the task force about ethnic studies, the response we got very loud and clear was that ethnic studies is an FAS-specific issue,” Seo said. “We sympathize with that view because I understand the task force is supposed to be coming up with recommendations for the entire University and not for a specific school.”
The petition mentioned Yale, Columbia, and Stanford—three peer institutions with centers concentrating on race and ethnicity—as points of comparison.
“I think it’s actually irresponsible for Harvard to train its students without giving them education and resources, knowledge and research on race and ethnicity,” Seo said.
Allen said that it is “exciting” to see the Solution Space being used and that the trending petition aligns with the existing recommendation, which she said “does have a university-wide center for research in the area of identity, politics, and culture, which includes race, ethnicity, and all these other identities.”
Allen said that after the final version of the report it will be up to the faculty “to answer the question of what would be the most effective and powerful research center that can be designed.”
Two student groups, the Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies, and Native Americans at Harvard College, and three alumni groups—the Asian American Alumni Alliance, Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, and the Latino Alumni Alliance—co-signed Seo’s petition.
William Oh ’18, a member of both the task force and the Ethnic Studies Coalition, said the more than 500 votes came not only from undergraduates, but also graduate students and alumni. He called the effort “largely an email and social media campaign.”
Oh said the task force expects to release a final report early next semester.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.
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