Looking Back: Student Activism Revives Afro-Am Department

In October of 1990, Harvard's Afro-American studies department had only one tenured faculty member. Three prominant scholars in the field had recently refused Harvard appointments, and students in the concentration were frustrated.

so they decided to react.

Five Afro-American Studies concentrators refused to leave then President Derek C. Bok's office for two hours on October 22, until they had a promise that he would meet with them discuss the issue.

And later that night, Bok faced approximately 150 protestors chanting, "What do we want? Afro-Am faculty. When do we want it? Now!" and "We won't go back!" as he left a Kennedy School of Government forum.

Approximately three weeks later, on November 15, eight students staged an all-night University Hall sit-in to draw attention to the lack of administration response on the issue.


Meanwhile, a large crowd of students protested outside the building, chanting "One, two, three, four, Dean Rosovsky, open the door...this is bullshit, bullshit." A number of protestors also camped outside the building overnight.

And on November 17, 70 protestors marched from Harvard Yard to The Stadium on the day of the Harvard Yale football game, surprising some alumni.

In the wake of recent student demands for a serious commitment to Latino and Asian-American studies at Harvard, students and administrators are reminded of the 1990 Afro-American studies controversy.

Recent Events

Representatives of Raza, the Mexican-American student organization, and La O, the Puerto Rican student group, have said that such methods are a possibility if administrators fail to listen to their requests.

The Asian American Association is mobilizing to pressure the University to offer permanent Asian-American studies courses and recruit Asian-American professors. The AAA political committee met Wednesday to discuss a plan action.

Since 1990, the result of student activism is a department led by well-known scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., DuBois professor of the humanities, one which attracts such star talent as filmmaker Spike Lee and novelist Jamaica Kincaid.

The concentration has, in addition, tenured one professor, and has appointed new assistant professors. Although students say more can be done, there is little doubt that the department is stronger than it was two years ago.

"I still see the department in a formative stage," said Zaheer R. Ali '94 president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Black Student Association. "I think the department is still growing."