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Harvard’s Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights launched an Asian American studies working group on Thursday, establishing the first academic organization in the College devoted exclusively to the field.
The EMR program’s structure has in the past left students with limited options to investigate Asian American studies, said Tessa Lowinske Desmond, the EMR program administrator and academic advisor, a problem which she hopes the working group will help solve.
Undergraduate, graduate, and alumni participants in the working group’s first meeting Thursday set goals and determined the structure of the group. They identified workshopping senior theses and dissertation chapters, discussions of current events affecting the Asian American community, and involvement with local Asian American community organizations as top priorities for the group.
“There are several different constituencies that come together under this EMR umbrella: studies of ethnicity, migration, human rights, indigeneity, Native American studies, Asian American studies, and Latino studies,” Desmond said. “Now instead of having one event in Asian American studies that our office puts on each year, there will be six meetings per year, and it will give folks interested in Asian American studies a place to connect.”
Ju Yon Kim—an English professor and one of the new group’s faculty directors along with History professor Genevieve Clutario—said at the meeting that she believes the working group will foster a sense of community among students engaged with issues of Asian American history and identity.
“I hope that this becomes a home for your scholarship,” she told the students who gathered for Thursday’s meeting. “For those of you who’ve been told that what you’re doing in English or history is also Asian American studies, this can be a chance for you to participate in the development of the field.”
Jenny Choi ’16, a social studies concentrator, attended the meeting on Thursday and expressed enthusiasm for the group’s goals.
“As a thesis writer focusing on Asian American studies, I’ve had trouble finding resources on campus,” she said. “I’m so glad this support network exists now.”
Helen J. Kim, a doctoral candidate in religion and the graduate student coordinator of the new working group, approached Desmond last spring with the idea to create an organization connecting undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty working in Asian American studies at Harvard.
“The role [of the working group] is to provide an intergenerational space to talk about the field of Asian American studies, about debates in the field,” Kim said.
She added that she feels Harvard has historically neglected Asian American studies and other ethnic studies fields.
“Asian American studies probably started in the sixties, and now we’re in 2015,” she said. “There’s a long gap there, and I think we do have to ask why that is.”
For her part, Desmond said she hopes to develop working groups in Native American Studies, Latino Studies, and Human Rights Studies in the next few years. This year, EMR launched a secondary pathway in Latino Studies.
The working group plans to hold one meeting per month. The group will host its first guest speaker, University of Maryland Asian American studies professor Janelle Wong, at a lecture on October 29.
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