A group of 30 students discussed the possibility of including Asian-American studies in Harvard’s curriculum last night, hoping to revive a movement whose roots trace back at least 20 years and whose presence was felt several times in the past decade.
The group, congregated in the Kirkland JCR, attempted to tackle the past failures of such an effort as well as the design of a potential field of Asian- American studies and its place within the University.
Waves of varying interest have been blamed for the lack of success in getting such a program off the ground in the past. Assistant Professor of Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies Eileen Chow said that she believes the problem of apathy can be eliminated by cultivating an appreciation for the subject among the underclassmen.
“The kiss of death has been the periodic quality of this notion,” she said.
A decade ago East Asian Languages and Civilizations attempted to introduce Asian American studies, but the initiative was not successful.
But Chow said that she felt that now was an excellent time for the push to be made again, citing the current re-visioning of the College’s curriculum.
“This is the moment of fluidity because Harvard is involved in a curricular review,” said Chow.
Students at the event cited the need for a program specifically geared towards the study of Asian-American people and culture, saying that nothing in the current offerings truly fills this space.
“A lot of people end up taking [African-American Studies], but that’s framed in a black/white binary and it marginalizes Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans” Asian American Association Education/Political Co-Chair Angela C. Makabali ’06 said.
Chow identified several major challenges facing the implementation of a wider array of offerings in Asian-
American Studies, but noted that the most pressing challenge would be to identify what topics should comprise the field, as dictated by student interest.
“In the 1960s the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino reflected Asian Americans at that point” Chow said. According to Chow, the experience of Southern and South-Eastern Asians has become increasingly significant over the past four decades.
In addition, she said, a decision must be made as to whether native language media can be counted as part of Asian-American culture.
Another significant challenge identified during the discussion was the organization of a potential program.
Stanford University, for example, established a Comparative Race and Ethnicity Department under which its Asian-American Studies field for students falls.
Chow supports configuring Asian- American Studies at Harvard as a subsection of another department, suggesting American History as one possible fit, but citing what she called the conservative nature of Harvard’s history department as a likely hindrance.
Several students expressed opposition to introducing the discipline under East Asian Languages and Civilizations, commenting that labelling the program East Asian excluded other Asians and also necessitated a language requirement.
The discussion was designed to be student-friendly and enticing, with comfortable couches arranged in a circle and Chinese food and sodas laid out for those in attendance. It is the first of two scheduled for this semester to generate interest and awareness in the field of Asian-American Studies.
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