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Discussions Begin On Latino Studies

By Kate L. Rakoczy, Crimson Staff Writer

A group of professors working to expand Harvard’s programs in Latino studies met with University Provost Steven E. Hyman Monday, in what all parties are calling a “positive step.” But no concrete plans came out of the discussion, and the group veered away from discussing the specific goal of a center for Latino studies proposed last June.

“The provost was quite responsive to the issues raised at the meeting, [such as] the importance of immigration and globalization...and the explosive growth of the Latin American-origin population,” said Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs John H. Coatsworth.

Hyman said yesterday he still is only beginning to explore the alternatives for expanding Latino studies at Harvard.

“I don’t want to create enormous expectations,” Hyman said. “I thought it was a terrific meeting—my sense was that this was a group of thoughtful faculty colleagues who were discussing very promising ways of addressing important issues.”

The issue of Latino studies at Harvard received national attention when a Boston Globe article tied slow progress on a Latino studies center to University President Lawrence H. Summers’ conflict with the Afro-American Studies department. Professors said the Afro-American Studies media scandal led them to question Summers’ commitment to seriously considering the proposed Latino studies center.

But after Monday’s meeting, the group said it is not the form but the quality and quantity of research in Latino studies that matters to them.

“I think whether we call it a center or a program or it stays an interfaculty committee is less important than whether we find a way to ensure high-quality teaching and research,” said Coatsworth, who directs the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.

Student leaders of Latino organizations across the University say that the interest in Latino studies exists—even if students haven’t mobilized in favor of any specific programs.

“I think that Latino studies is one of the areas that Harvard has yet to address but that affects many of us who live in the U.S. whether Latino or not,” wrote Maribel Hernandez, president of Harvard-Radcliffe RAZA, in an e-mail.

Hernandez said that RAZA, an organization of Chicano students, will be discussing the issue of a Latino studies program in the future.

To actually enact a program for undergraduates in Latino studies, the proposal would need to be approved by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Committee on Ethnic Studies.

Hyman said that he has spoken with many members of the Committee on Ethnic Studies and that he will be meeting with a subset of the professors present at Monday’s discussion Tuesday afternoon.

Under current Faculty policy, any program of Ethnic Studies at Harvard must be broadly based and should seek not to “limit, or to privilege, the study of some ethnic groups at the expense of others.”

This might limit the options for creating large-scale Latino studies initiatives.

Liliana Antelo, one of the co-chairs of the Concilio Latino, an umbrella organization for Latino student groups at Harvard’s various schools, said she has seen great interest among the Latino community at Harvard in the field of Latino studies, but she believes efforts might be better directed toward expanding a general ethnic studies program than a program specific to Latino studies.

“That might be a more practical way of diversifying the types of things students study at Harvard,” she said.

—Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Kate L. Rakoczy can be reached at

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