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Dean Gay Says FAS Pursuing ‘Durable Change’ Following Spike in Anti-Asian Violence

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences told The Crimson that the FAS has extended offers to two scholars for the inaugural annual visiting professorships in ethnic studies.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences told The Crimson that the FAS has extended offers to two scholars for the inaugural annual visiting professorships in ethnic studies. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Meera S. Nair and Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

Amid a wave of rising anti-Asian violence, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said in a Wednesday interview that Harvard aims to “pursue durable change” in diversifying its faculty and fostering an inclusive climate.

After a 21-year-old gunman killed eight people — including six Asian women — at three Atlanta-area spas last month, Gay and other administrators, including University President Lawrence S. Bacow, condemned the rise in anti-Asian violence in a series of emails.

In his message, Bacow instructed Harvard affiliates to contact the University’s police force if they have knowledge of a “racist attack.” A dozen Harvard student organizations signed a letter criticizing Bacow for the suggestion, calling it an “unacceptable and harmful remedy” for anti-Asian violence at the University.

Gay said during the interview that in addition to the Harvard University Police Department, students who wish to report instances of hate and discrimination can turn to “a number of supports” within the College, including resident deans and “faculty members they trust and feel supported by.”

“We stand and must stand in solidarity with members of the AAPI community here at Harvard, but also really across the nation,“ Gay said. “I do believe very strongly that this is a struggle that belongs to all of us, and that we have a role to play, in particular, in fighting the false narratives that drive racist violence.”

Gay additionally called upon all Harvard affiliates to do their part to help create a climate of acceptance and support.

“One of the things that I feel is an important expression and manifestation of this idea of a shared struggle is that we want to build a community in which all of us feel like we can be not only agents of change, but also support for members of the community in times of challenge and need,” she said. “That’s the kind of place that I want Harvard to be.”

Reflecting on the past year, Gay said that Harvard — as well as the world more broadly — has received a wake-up call to the “issues of inequality, systemic racism, bias, prejudice, white supremacy, in ways never seen before.” She said she plans to “take this moment and use it to pursue durable change” by expanding and diversifying the FAS curriculum.

“It provides even stronger motivation for us to pursue and succeed at our efforts to expand our curriculum, and more fully and robustly represent in our curriculum the diverse histories and experiences that are so formative to who we are as a society,” she said.

Following an announcement last August that she would create two annual visiting professorships in ethnic studies, Gay shared that she has now extended offers for the inaugural cohort to “two leading scholars of race and ethnicity,” and she hopes to announce their appointments soon.

While she declined to comment on specifics of the separate cluster hire of three to four tenured ethnic studies faculty, Gay said the search “continues to move forward.” During an interview in March, Gay said she remains “excited and optimistic” about welcoming the new senior faculty “hopefully in the coming year.”

In the Wednesday interview, Gay said the FAS is firmly committed to carrying out the “important work” of addressing questions of race, diversity, and inequality.

“Harvard can really deliver on our institutional commitment to truth and advancement of knowledge in ways that make the world a better, more humane, and more just place,” she said.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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