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Last Friday, Tessa Lowinske Desmond—coordinator of the Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights program—hosted a two hour-long meeting to draw attention to the need for an Asian and Pacific American Studies secondary track. Such an endeavor would entail hiring more tenured professors from relevant fields of study and offering more undergraduate courses taught through the lens of Asian and Pacific American history. Lowinske and a group of supportive students make these demands following the inaugural first semester of a secondary field program in Latino Studies in the College’s Romance Languages and Literatures department.
In light of the fact that there is significant interest on campus from both the faculty and student body in creating this program, we are excited to see that the College supports the working group exploring the possibility of an Asian and Pacific American studies field. The college should certainly institute either a pertinent track within EMR or a full-on secondary. In doing so, the faculty should be careful to meld student suggestion with advice and direction from members of the community who are better qualified to shape the program.
To be sure, the current absence of an Asian American studies track does not suggest a disinterest in the topic on the College’s part—nor does the lack of any other, similarly specific program. The absence of a subfield should not be taken to reflect an institutional prejudice against studying a certain type of history, but rather an indication that the demographic interested in studying that type is smaller than others or, in this case, newly vocal.
That said, the establishment of Asian American studies at Harvard should be a top priority. At this stage, it is important to the ultimate formation of the secondary field that students remain vocal about their support. As we have seen with the formation of the African American studies department in 1969 and the more recent development of the Latino Studies pathway, continued student support and clamor is integral to the timely formation of new departments.
Still, the formation of such a department is no easy feat, and in the coming months it would be unrealistic to expect immediate change. Even if the College itself is completely committed to these endeavors, the administration may be bogged down by more trenchant, field-related biases and problems that stall progress. It is in the best interests of potential students of Asian- and Pacific-American Studies that the College take time and put care into developing the department and hiring faculty to it.
We trust that the working group and the administration will put due thought and time into creating a valuable department that stands on par with preexisting departments, and we look forward to what will come for Asian American studies at Harvard.
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