Further Action is Needed on Ethnic Studies

We commend the History & Literature department’s decision to provide an ethnic studies track, but more work remains.

For the last 44 years at Harvard, students have been pushing unsuccessfully for the establishment of an Ethnic Studies department at the College, submitting 11 total proposals—all of which have been rejected by the administration. Last Thursday, the History & Literature department took an important first step by creating an ethnic studies track for concentrators. We applaud this groundbreaking move towards the legitimization of ethnic studies but stress that more must be done to enhance the voices of different ethnic groups through academia.

The new ethnic studies track enables students to take eight classes in the field, in addition to six general History & Literature courses. Students can specialize in Asian American Studies, Latinx Studies, African American Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Muslim American Studies, affording them a great deal of autonomy in choosing their research topics. We are heartened by the flexibility this program grants students to pursue a course of study tailored to their interests, and we believe that the department’s focus on interdisciplinary study makes it a natural home for ethnic studies.

We suspect the realization of this new academic track is in large part a product of student activism, and we commend these groups, including the Ethnic Studies Coalition, for successfully calling attention to the need for an institutionalized ethnic studies field. It is good to see the History & Literature department respecting student perspectives, and this partnership between faculty and students to modernize and broaden scholarship is laudable.

Nevertheless, the need for Ethnic Studies remains great. In order to become thoughtful members of the global community, students should have the opportunity to think critically about the role that race and ethnicity has played in defining everything from the political landscape to the daily lives of Americans. Moreover, this department would help reflect and validate the diversity of America while exploring the nuances of cultural backgrounds, helping to elevate dialogue and build a better connected society.

We therefore believe that the full establishment of an Ethnic Studies department on campus is still necessary. This department would provide the essential resources needed to build up the program, including by hiring faculty that specializes in the field and by providing research funding. In order to effectively integrate Ethnic Studies into the academic world of Harvard, the field needs financial and administrative support—and becoming a full department would provides that.

We applaud the History & Literature department for taking the lead on this timely and important course of study. Yet we also hope that this is only the first step, and more work will be done to give Ethnic Studies independent recognition as an academic field.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.