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Students, Faculty Call for Asian and Pacific American Studies Program

By Jessica Min and Maxwell J. Simon, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: December 7, 2015, at 1:21 p.m.

Former Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights program coordinator Tessa Lowinske Desmond urged attendees at an open discussion on Friday to appeal to the Harvard administration to create a formal academic program in Asian and Pacific American studies.

Desmond, speaking at the invitation of two students who organized the event, made remarks following a two-hour discussion during which students, alumni, and faculty called for Harvard to offer more courses and hire more faculty in the field. A handout distributed at the event said Harvard currently has only two tenure-track faculty members whose work relates to Asian and Pacific American studies, as far as event organizers know.

Earlier this semester, the Committee on EMR rolled out a working group devoted to Asian American studies, the College’s first academic organization devoted to the subject. The group provides students and interested faculty with a setting in which to discuss work related to the field, and one of the two students who organized the Friday meeting is involved in the working group.

“Asian and Pacific American studies is huge,” English associate professor Ju Yon Kim said. “To have only two classes a year that cover this means that there are going to be things that end up falling off the syllabus.”

As a result of faculty and curricular shortages, several attendees said, students are unable to pursue studies in the field.

“I believe that having such a program is important for developing thoughts between communities and strengthening political activism,” said Sidney C. Li ’19, one of the event’s moderators.

Saying that “the study of Pacific Islands [at Harvard] is next to nothing,” Shelly D. A. Preza ’17 pointed to the importance of including the studies of Pacific American peoples in discussions surrounding Asian American studies. Currently, the title of EMR’s working group does not include explicit reference to Pacific American studies.

Tynan Jackson ’19, an attendee to the discussion, said he thought Harvard should adopt Asian and Pacific American studies to benefit its own students, but also to serve as an example for other universities in the United States.

“I just don’t understand why Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, would not want to be a pioneer in Asian American studies and be able to celebrate these histories,” he said.

This semester, the College launched a pathway in Latino Studies within the EMR secondary after students and faculty spent years pushing for a formal program.

Now, Li said he is hopeful that the open discussions and events organized by the working group are shifting the group one step closer to its goals of a formal program for Asian and Pacific American studies.

“We have a lot support from community to move forward,” he said. “I am optimistic.”

—Staff Writer Jessica Min can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jessmin17.

This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

CORRECTIONS: December 7, 2015

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Friday town hall was a meeting of a working group devoted to Asian American studies. In fact, while one of the student organizers is involved in the working group, it was not run by the group. An earlier version also misstated the title of Tessa Lowinske Desmond. In fact, she is the former program coordinator of the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights, not its current one.

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