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Teach-In Explores History of Ethnic Studies at Harvard

By Mia C. Karr, Crimson Staff Writer

Diana K. Nguyen ’15 shared her research on the decades-long history of activism for ethnic studies at Harvard with a group of undergraduates and alumni on Thursday at a “teach-in.” that was co-sponsored by Concilio Latino, Native Americans at Harvard College, and the Task Force for Asian and Pacific American Studies.

Several dozen attendees, including new Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, gathered in the Ethnicity, Migration, Rights space at 4 Arrow Street for the event.

Nguyen, who completed a secondary in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights and was on the committee’s student advisory council, said she combed through old Crimson articles to find mentions of ethnic studies. She said that going forward, she would like to cross-reference information from the articles to get a more complete picture of the historic push for the discipline.

“This is something I’m really dedicated to and interested in,” she said in an interview.

While an undergraduate, Nguyen also interned with the EMR committee and was involved with Asian American activism. She is now a program coordinator with the committee, but she emphasized that she was speaking from her role as an alumni, not as an administrator at the teach-in.

Nguyen said that, over the course of her time at Harvard, it has been exciting to see progress such as the creation of a Latino studies secondary and the formation of working groups in ethnic studies.

“I definitely think [there has been change]. Maybe unsatisfyingly so for a lot of people,” she said. “But I saw a lot of dedicated faculty and administration that really wanted to support the students.”

Fellow alumnus Alex L. Chen ’16 also attended the event. He was involved with the creation of the Task Force on Asian American and Pacific Studies and also received an EMR secondary.

Chen said he was disappointed with the lack of Asian American studies courses available to him as an undergraduate.

“I hope in the longer term that this history [of ethnic studies at Harvard] inspires or reassures people that what we’re interested in isn’t anomalous,” he said. “This has been around for a long time.”

The use of teach-ins as a form of activism is not new on campus. The Task Force on Asian American and Pacific Studies hosted several last semester, and Nguyen found an article during her research about a teach-in for ethnic studies during the 1980s.

“A lecture is boring. A teach-in sounds more communal—you do it together,” Nguyen said. “I want people to participate and feel like they’re a stakeholder in the knowledge.”

Concilio Latino treasurer Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a Crimson editorial writer, said he felt the event was an important contribution to the institutional memory of ethnic studies.

“When a freshman comes on campus, and they see this part of their academic sphere is missing, they might assume they’re the first to notice it,” he said.

Reyes said knowing the history of the push for ethnic studies is also important when looking ahead to further activism.

“It’s good to know where we’ve been and what’s worked and what hasn’t,” he said.

—Staff writer Mia C.Karr can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.

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