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European Secondary Frustrates Advocates for Ethnic Studies

Center for European Studies
The Center for European Studies.

UPDATED: October 5, 2016, at 6:05 p.m.

Student leaders who have sought greater ethnic representation in Harvard’s academic offerings said they found the creation of a new undergraduate secondary field in European History, Politics, and Societies disheartening.

Over the past several years, students have pushed for more opportunities to take ethnic studies courses and for the establishment of degree programs within those fields, including Asian American studies and Native American studies. Last fall, after years of student advocacy for a Latino studies program, the College unveiled a secondary in the field.

This fall, the Center for European Studies announced a new secondary field that would offer students "a more guided process for studying Europe," the center's Executive Director Elaine M. Papoulias said over the summer.

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Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a Crimson editorial writer who serves on the board of three groups for Latino students, said he thought the new secondary’s focus on history, societies, and politics was redundant in the context of Harvard’s other course offerings.

“There is natural tendency that the way we teach history, politics, et cetera is European,” he said.

The new European studies secondary came from more than three years of discussions between center administrators, member of the Standing Committee on European Studies, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Reyes said he thought the creation of the secondary was frustrating because he was not aware of any student demand. In comparison, student activism led to the creation of the Latino Studies secondary and is at the heart of the recently-formed Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies (TAPAS).

“Underneath it all, it’s educational for those of us involved in these movements, learning that this is the way that secondary programs get established,” Kaipo Matsumoto ’17, a student involved the push for Native American and Asian American studies, said, arguing that the new secondary has “more to do with external funding sources, established centers.”

In an email, College spokesperson Rachael Dane pointed to the existence of concentrations that study diverse populations, such as African and African American Studies, East Asian Studies, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, as well as the secondary in Ethnicity, Migrations, and Rights.

Currently, there is no secondary in Native American studies, which has long frustrated students who point to Harvard’s founding charter, which states a commitment to educating Native American students. Additionally, though the College has recently seen an increase in Asian American studies courses offered this semester, there is no secondary field in that topic. Such a formal support structure could help students interested in the field move forward academically, Juhwan Seo ’17, a member of TAPAS, said.

“There are plenty of students already writing their junior papers or theses on these topics, and they’re not getting the support that they need,” Seo said.

Itzel L. Vasquez-Rodriguez ’17, another advocate for Latino studies and director of student group Concilio Latino, also expressed disappointment with the new secondary. She said she was “sure that it wasn’t intentional” that the College created a European studies secondary ahead of other ethnic secondaries.

She said, “It might not be intentional, but to me, it comes across as hurtful to communities of color.”

Some students acknowledged that the creation of the new secondary concentration was likely an easy move, given that the Center for European Studies is a well-resourced, longstanding institution. For Seo, this decision highlights the relative dearth of resources dedicated to ethnic studies.

“Especially at a more traditional and slow-working machine like Harvard, [grassroots advocacy] is unlikely to bring about significant change unless we disrupt the campus, and often disruption is money,” Seo said, emphasizing the need for funds for a center for race and ethnicity.

Staff from the Center for European Studies declined to comment.

—Staff writer Marella A. Gayla can be reached at marella.gayla@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @marellagayla.

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

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction;

CORRECTION: October 5, 2016

Because of an editing error, a previous version of this article said that the European studies secondary took three months to formulate. In fact, discussions occurred over more than three years.

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