New dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said in an interview last week that she is actively recruiting faculty who study race and ethnicity.
Her support for these disciplines comes as students and alumni continue to call for Harvard to further develop its programs in ethnic studies. Though Gay did not explicitly outline what a formal program in the field might look like in FAS, she said she believes the best way to strengthen any future programs is to start by building up the faculty.
“What really needs to come first are the faculty — the faculty who will come here, who will develop the curriculum and who eventually will provide the leadership that will bring the curriculum together and make it sustainable as a program in whatever form,” Gay said.
Activists have long advocated for a formalized program in ethnic studies. Their efforts have spanned more than 40 years and have included 12 different proposals calling on Harvard to invest in the field.
As a committee searched for a new FAS dean over the summer, ethnic studies advocates sent an open letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow in June, encouraging him to select a leader for Harvard’s largest division who would prioritize the field of ethnic studies. Nearly 50 Harvard student and alumni organizations, who collectively call themselves the Harvard Ethnic Studies Coalition, signed the open letter, and the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance sent its own follow-up letter to Bacow.
FAS currently offers a secondary field in Ethnicity, Migration, Rights, but no field of concentration for undergraduates at the College. The Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights, which oversees the secondary field, also allows undergraduates to pursue a secondary track in Latino Studies. Independently, History and Literature allows its students to focus on ethnic studies as a possible field within the concentration.
The coalition’s June letter criticized the current opportunities in specific History and Literature topics, calling them “poorly supported” and “under-resourced.” Among the problems cited in the letter were the lack of courses in Asian American studies, Arab American studies, and mixed race studies in the History and Literature department offerings in fall 2017.
At the time of the letter’s receipt, FAS spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement that FAS is currently working to expand its course offerings in “fields of priority to EMR and the ethnic studies track in Hist & Lit.”
FAS has already proven successful in its efforts to recruit faculty, according to Gay. She said the recent hiring of History Professor Philip J. Deloria, Harvard’s first-ever tenured faculty member in Native American studies, was an example of the progress FAS has made thus far.
“There's definitely more work to do, but I'm feeling pretty optimistic because of what we've managed to achieve, frankly, just in the last 18 months,” Gay said. “These are folks who are energized, have great ideas, outside perspective, and I could imagine continuing to build a cohort around this nucleus.”
Gay said that as dean of social science — a role she held immediately prior to assuming the FAS deanship — she authorized several faculty searches for professors studying race and ethnicity. Gay, who herself is a professor of Government and African and African-American Studies, co-taught the graduate seminar Government 2576: “Racial and Ethnic Politics in the United States.” Now, she said she is waiting to see how the faculty searches pan out before having further discussions on what type of “program” of ethnic studies FAS will create.
“I have the structural authority to create an ethnic studies program like tomorrow, but I'm not going to be the one teaching it and advising the students in it, because I'm sitting in this office,” Gay said. “That's the reason I'm starting with faculty. Once we get that cohort here, then they can start talking amongst themselves about how they want to organize themselves, how they want to organize their curriculum.”
Gay said she plans to revisit the topic in the spring and meet with ethnic studies proponents then, after the faculty searches have progressed.
“By the spring, we'll have some sense of how those faculty searches are doing, and hopefully we'll have identified the candidates, the new faculty that will be joining us,” Gay said. “So I thought from that perspective, the conversation will be much more productive then as opposed to now when the searches are still going on.”
—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.
—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22.
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