Ethnic Studies has joined the growing list of secondary fields available to students.
The Standing Committee on Ethnic Studies announced the creation of the new field yesterday, validating a years-long student-led campaign.
“This was basically 10, 20 years in the making,” said outgoing Undergraduate Council president Andrea R. Flores ’10, who called this the “happiest news of [her] UC presidency.”
The proposal first emerged last April as part of a key component of Flores’ agenda. It was finally approved Tuesday by a committee of 33 professors, lecturers, and deans.
“A lot of efforts of individual students...made this happen,” said Athena L.M. Lao ’12, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. “I’m very grateful that I could be part of it.”
The UC’s original proposal stated that “the growing diversity of our campus, coupled with incidents of racially motivated intolerance in recent years, is evidence that more resources that help students understand different perspectives and life experience are sorely needed.”
The proposal offered a clear definition of the field: “Ethnic Studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines how people of color in the United States have historically experienced social and political institutions and how, as growing populations, they will continue to encounter life in the United States.”
The proposal also cited the urgent need for this particularly field of study. “The growing diversity of our campus, coupled with incidents of racially motivated intolerance in recent years, is evidence that more resources that help students understand different perspectives and life experience are sorely needed,” the proposal stated.
A number of General Education courses would count towards the secondary field. Many departmental courses—including government, sociology, and music—would also count.
Lecturer on History Denise Khor, a member of the Standing Committee on Ethnic Studies, said the new field will allow students “to ask questions that might not get asked in a particular discipline.”
Sometimes traditional “disciplinary boundaries can be more prohibitive than productive,” Khor added.
The establishment of Ethnic Studies as a secondary field is the culmination of much struggle and heated debate between concerned student groups including the Asian American Association and Native Americans at Harvard College and the administration.
In the midst of the recession, the new field represents an attempt by Harvard “to do, within the financial constraints, whatever we can to create more of an intellectual vibrancy,” said Professor of English Literature and of African and African American Studies Werner Sollors, who is also the chair of the Standing Committee on Ethnic Studies.
Flores, who hopes to graduate this year with a secondary field in Ethnic Studies, said she hopes the news is a precursor to further recognition for the field.
“We want a concentration,” Flores said, “but looking at what was feasible given the budgetary situation we are in, it seemed that secondary field was a good first step.”
—Elyssa A.L. Spitzer ’12 contributed to the reporting of this story.