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Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in an interview Tuesday that he supports Harvard undergraduates’ calls for a formalized ethnic studies program.
“I think [ethnicity, migration, and indigeneity] are critical areas of knowledge that we need to, Harvard needs to not only have, but actually have unparalleled strength,” Khurana said.
Khurana’s comments follow a letter sent to students by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay on Monday. In the letter, Gay wrote that Harvard has an “institutional commitment” to the discipline and discussed an ongoing search for four faculty who specialize in ethnic studies.
Khurana said in the interview Tuesday that he agrees with Gay’s letter and believes Harvard must enable students to study ethnicity during their time at Harvard.
Gay wrote in her letter to students that she believes Harvard’s faculty, not FAS administrators, should spearhead the push for an undergraduate Ethnic Studies concentration at Harvard. Khurana said he hopes undergraduates will also be directly involved in the process through FAS student-faculty committees.
“One of the things that I hope is that this — from an undergraduate perspective — helps create a strong set of courses and a secondary and concentration. So the evolution toward that I'm very excited about,” he said. “And when we do create new concentrations, one of the areas in which concentrations get developed is a committee called the Education Policy Committee, which has undergraduate representation on it.”
Khurana’s comments come amid a spate of undergraduate-led protests calling for immediate action toward an Ethnic Studies program. Protesters have held rallies, staged a sit-in at University Hall, and interrupted a faculty meeting.
Over the past month, Khurana has looked on during several student protests related to ethnic studies and calls for the University to divest its endowment from fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt. He said he tries to attend student protests with “humility.”
“I think it's really important to recognize that there's something that's motivating these protests and I see my role as to recognize there are people who have experienced some kind of frustration or pain,” he said. “My job is to hear that and listen to it, and recognize that many of these protests are often being led by people who don't feel empowered, or feel marginalized in some way.”
“I feel my role is to understand what part I might be playing in having contributed to that pain or frustration and what I can do about it,” he added.
—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.
—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.
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