To Latino and Asian American students, the absence of an ethnic studies curriculum at Harvard means more than the university's usual stodginess or even budget problems. It means, they say, exclusion from a curriculum intended to teach a diverse student body.
"It just shows Harvard isn't committed to the type of diversity that they preach to the students that come in, the students that are applying," said Efrain Cortes '93, former president of the Puerto Rican student group La O, last fall.
In fact, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Lawrence Buell, himself an advocate for a greater ethnic studies presence in the curriculum, called Harvard's current offerings in the area "embryonic" last fall.
Ethnic studies, most basically defined as research and teaching focusing on the history and culture of ethnic and racial minorities in the United States, are not offered through an independent department or committee at Harvard. Individual departments offer courses about ethnic studies topics on a year-to-year basis.
La O, the Mexican-American student group Raza and the Asian American Association (AAA) began agitating in September to force the University to begin the process of change in Harvard's treatment of ethnicity in the curriculum.
But making change happen in an institution like Harvard isn't easy.
The students started at the top and encountered an obstacle course. Raza and La O wrote to Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles requesting a meeting on Latino courses.
Knowles' response to the Latino groups' concerns was brief: he had no time to meet with them and referred them to Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III. The student groups met on the night of October 3, and their response to the perceived brushoff was angry and quick. "It was really upsetting that he couldn't find 10 minutes to meet with us about it," Cortes said in October.
The meeting with Knowles happened eventually, and was followed by meetings with other officials with no immediate result, according to the students involved.
The AAA organized a political committee to spearhead their efforts for more courses on Asian American topics and history, but they saw no progress this year either. The issue quieted and seemed to be swept under the bureaucratic rug.
But it didn't remain there for long.
The Coalition for Diversity, formed in early March, made the ethnic studies courses Latino and Asian American students had demanded a cornerstone of its platform and protests.
Finally, the gears of Harvard officialdom ground into motion. Knowles formed a subcommittee to the Educational Policy Committee to look into the possibilities for ethnic studies in the Harvard curriculum.
Knowles, Rudenstine and other top officials met again with students--this time under the auspices of the coalition--on ethnic studies, and other issues.
The subcommittee, chaired by Buell, was charged with developing a concrete plan for moving forward.
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