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Student Group Pushes for Formal Asian American Studies Program

By Jonathan G. Adler and Brian P. Yu, Crimson Staff Writers

A new student group advocating for the expansion of Asian American studies at Harvard received recognition as an official organization by the Office of Student Life on Monday, allowing them to fundraise for a possible tenured faculty position in the field.

Students established the organization, called the Taskforce on Asian and Pacific American Studies, at the end of last semester. Juhwan Seo ’17, one of the leaders of TAPAS, said the organization will now begin to ramp up discussions with administrators and faculty members about the feasibility of fundraising for such a professorship. Official recognition allows the group to open an OSL-recognized bank account and use OSL resources to contact potential alumni donors.

“Without the existence of serious classes and scholarship, Harvard will never be interested in creating a [secondary] or a concentration [in Asian American studies],” Seo said. “That’s our longest goal, and more ambitious: raising money so that we can have professors who can create at least a minor in Asian American studies.”

The group’s formation comes at a time when students and faculty have increasingly advocated for ethnic studies programs at Harvard. As the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights last fall created a secondary field in Latino Studies, students have continued to voice concern about a perceived lack of academic offerings in Asian American studies.

“Currently, there is no Asian American studies secondary, concentration, or certificate. There’s no formalized program,” Undergraduate Council Freshman Class Committee Chair Eduardo A. Gonzalez ’18 said. “There are only Asian American classes that are offered in ones or twos every semester, often from visiting professors.”

Before starting their fundraising push, which Seo says aims to focus primarily on the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance, members of TAPAS are working to raise awareness about what they describe as a need for expanded academic offerings.

“Our goal really is to be the student voice and the activism that can bring about a real movement for Asian American and Pacific studies at Harvard,” Seo said.

To that end, TAPAS leaders including Seo and Sidney C. Li ’19 have hosted a number of events, such as movie nights and speaker series featuring experts in Asian American studies.

Last October, the College formed a working group under the purview of the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights, which, separate from the student organization, is also working to expand the field at Harvard.

Several UC representatives have voiced support for the effort, which UC Education Committee Chair Scott Ely ’18 said was consistent with his committee’s goals to advocate for underrepresented groups at the College.

“Moving forward, in conversations with faculty and administrators, we simply have to do more to advocate for Asian American studies and [articulate] why it’s important to students,” UC Dudley House representative Laila M. Smith ’17 said.

–Staff writer Jonathan G. Adler can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JonathanGAdler.

—Staff writer Brian P. Yu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @brianyu28.

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