Committee Moves To Offer Latino Studies Certificate

Head of ethnic studies panel says new credential is ‘on the way’

The Committee on Ethnic Studies (CES) took its first steps yesterday toward implementing a certificate in Latino studies—just a week after University President Lawrence H. Summers pointedly failed to support a student-initiated request for a Latino studies department.

CES Chair and Professor of American Civilization Werner M. Sollors said the certificate, which would be in a field known in academic circles as U.S. Latino studies, would be “on the way next year.”

At a meeting with Summers last week, students had petitioned for a full-fledged Latino studies department analogous to the Afro-American studies department.

The certificate that CES is considering, much like the certificate currently available in African studies, falls short of a full-fledged degree—forcing interested students to concentrate in another field—but offers students wishing to pursue ethnic studies a solid structure for their academic program, according to Sollors.

CES, which had said last spring it would implement a general ethnic studies certificate, is now leaning towards the option of offering certificates in various sub-fields, Sollors said.

Advocates of ethnic studies say they want to see offerings in several specific fields—Asian American, Afro-American, U.S. Latino and Native American studies. Of these groups, only Afro-American studies is currently a department at Harvard.

“Ethnic studies is difficult because any course could be construed to be at least partly ethnic,” Sollors said. “It’s very hard to administer a general ethnic studies certificate. It would be a meaningless piece of paper. It makes much more sense to focus on specific groups. There can still be a comparative element.”

Ideally, in the future, Sollors says committee members want to see all of these fields with their own certificates.

“The certificate would be administered according to various ethnic groups,” Sollors said. “What we’ll need is someone like a senior tutor in each area to advise students.”

Yesterday’s CES meeting, which included a presentation from John H. Coatsworth, director of the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, was the first step in implementing such a certificate.

Coatsworth, who is Gutman professor of Latin American affairs, reviewed the academic programs that the Rockefeller Center offers—in order, he said, to give CES members an idea of how they might structure a U.S. Latino studies certificate.

The proposed certificate would differ from programs offered by the Rockefeller Center by focusing on the experience of Americans with Latin descent, as opposed to the culture of the Latin countries themselves, Sollors said.

Harvard lacks academic programs that offer this combination—the joining of American and ethnic experiences—student activists for ethnic studies say.

“Regional studies are different from ethnic studies,” said Reema Rajbanshi ’03, a member of the Harvard Coalition for Ethnic Studies. “Americans of these ethnicities are connected both to the experience here and perceptions of life ‘back home.’”

Rajbanshi added that despite a booklet of suggested courses currently put out by CES, the College has very few offerings that encompass the ethno-American experience—an issue that CES hopes to address temporarily by hiring new visiting faculty.

At yesterday’s meeting, CES announced the appointment of six visiting professors who will offer 14 courses pertaining to ethnic studies over the next few years.

“Our goal is to get as many courses in the book as possible, so students interested in ethnic studies can plan a little bit into the future,” Sollors said.

The ethnic studies committee has acted as an intermediary in hiring the faculty, who will work through departments including the history of art and architecture, women’s studies, sociology and folklore and mythology.

‘“The difficulty was to get courses that departments really want,” Sollors said. “These new faculty and courses have been proposed, vetted and run through departmental rather than committee choices.”

In the next step for the committee, it will meet with students interested in ethnic studies on April 1.