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Alumni Gift $45 Million to Expand Asian American Studies

Ten Asian American alumni gifted more than $45 million to expand the Faculty of Arts and Sciences's Asian American studies program.
Ten Asian American alumni gifted more than $45 million to expand the Faculty of Arts and Sciences's Asian American studies program. By Zing Gee
By Meera S. Nair and Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

Ten Asian American alumni gifted more than $45 million to expand the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’s Asian American studies program, the FAS announced on Tuesday.

The donations will endow new professorships and graduate fellowships, as well as fund academic research in the field. The expansion is part of an FAS-led push to bolster the study of ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration at Harvard.

“We are thrilled to support Harvard’s long-term commitment to the field of Asian American studies and [FAS] Dean [Claudine] Gay’s vision to advance racial justice by attracting exceptional faculty and students to Harvard,” hedge fund manager Joseph Y. Bae ’94 and writer Janice Y. K. Lee ’94, who led the initiative, said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication.

“Harvard’s leadership in this important area of scholarship is absolutely critical in helping society understand the full breadth of the Asian American experience, its many unique struggles, and the significant contributions Asian Americans have made in shaping our country,” Bae and Lee continued.

In response to a rising wave of anti-Asian violence this past spring, Gay said in an April interview with The Crimson she planned to “take this moment and use it to pursue durable change” by expanding and diversifying the FAS faculty and curriculum.

“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 said.

The donation comes as a move to hire three to four senior faculty specializing in ethnic studies — first announced in June 2019 — has lagged. The cluster hire of faculty is meant to boost efforts to establish a formal ethnic studies program, a longtime priority for activists.

Nonetheless, groups advocating for ethnic studies programs applauded the program’s expansion. Jeannie Park ’83, president of the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance, wrote in an emailed statement that she hopes the gift “inspires other alumni to fund Ethnic Studies.”

“After nearly 50 years of student and alumni activism that made clear the academic need, a missing piece for Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Harvard was the funding,” Park wrote.

“Of immediate concern, we hope this helps persuade scholars of Harvard’s commitment to building a serious Ethnic Studies program,” she continued.

Harvard spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven declined to comment on the donation’s relation to the broader cluster hire.

Jane S. Bock ’81 of the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, an alumni group that pushes for diversity and equity at the University, applauded the gift as “change-making,” but reiterated the group’s goals.

“We look forward to Harvard committing similar resources to Latinx, Native American, and Muslim American Studies,” Bock wrote in an emailed statement. “And we call on Harvard to urgently address the structural problems that have impeded its Ethnic Studies scholars in the past.”

Thuan H. Tran ’23, a spokesperson for the undergraduate groups Harvard Ethnic Studies Coalition and Task Force for Asian American Progressive Advocacy and Studies, wrote the organizations were “grateful for the hard work of the alumni who made this gift a reality.”

“Learning our histories is the first step to correcting the structures which materially shape the Asian American experience, now and in the future,” they wrote, adding that the funding must create space for “communities [that] have been historically excluded or disadvantaged even within the Asian American community.”

“We demand that the University provide the critical infrastructure for Ethnic Studies scholars—including those who would be hired through this funding—to thrive at Harvard, starting with a financial commitment by the university to establish a department,” Tran added.

—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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FASFAS AdministrationAlumniFacultyFront Middle FeatureEthnic Studies