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FAS to Resume Ethnic Studies Faculty Search

University Hall houses several administrative offices, including those of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard College.
University Hall houses several administrative offices, including those of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard College. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By James S. Bikales, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard will resume its search for four faculty specializing in ethnic studies and create two annual visiting professorships in the field, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay announced in a Thursday morning email to FAS affiliates.

The announcement comes roughly four months after Gay suspended the high-profile search due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move she then called “heart-breaking” and “disheartening.” The search committee unanimously agreed at the time that candidates would no longer be able to best present their work.

Gay originally launched the search for three to four senior faculty specializing in Asian American, Latinx, and Muslim studies in June 2019, with a plan to complete the cluster hire by the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. When the pandemic overturned life on campus and put the search on hiatus, two candidates had already visited Harvard to give talks and meet with faculty and students, and nine more were scheduled to visit later in the spring semester.

Harvard affiliates have lobbied for a formalized ethnic studies program for nearly five decades, and the announcement of the search followed months of student organizing after the departure of two tenure-track faculty specializing in Asian American studies. In November, the University’s decision to deny tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña — who studies race and ethnicity — led to further student protests and drew widespread attention to the search.

Gay also announced a series of other diversity iniatitives in the FAS in her Thursday missive, including the launch of a task force on visual culture and signage led by Arts and Humanities Dean Robin E. Kelsey, and the appointment of an FAS associate dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

The new dean will report directly to Gay and will “develop concrete goals and identify personal, departmental, divisional, and school-level actions for building an effective and active culture of anti-racism in the FAS,” Gay wrote.

FAS will also “identify concrete steps we can take to increase racial diversity of senior staff” and expand the Inequality in America postdoctoral fellowship program from two to four scholars studying racial and ethnic inequality.

Gay wrote that the moves were spurred on by the nationwide reckoning on racial justice following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, noting her “personal commitment to this transformational project.”

“This moment offers a profound opportunity for institutional change that should not and cannot be squandered,” Gay wrote. “In raw, candid conversations and virtual gatherings convened across the FAS in the aftermath of George Floyd’s brutal murder, members of our community spoke forcefully and with searing clarity about the institution we aspire to be and the lengths we still must travel to be the Harvard of our ideals.”

“It is up to us to ensure that the pain expressed, problems identified, and solutions suggested set us on a path for long-term change,” she added.

Gay wrote that Thursday’s steps were “just a starting place” in advancing racial justice in the FAS.

“The work of racial justice is not a one-time project,” she wrote. “We must be relentless, constructively critical, and action-oriented in our pursuit to build the thriving, more equitable FAS we all deserve.”

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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