Letters to President Bacow

Letter to President Bacow
February 2019

Sally Chen ’19, Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez ’17, and Margaret Chin ’84 testified powerfully in support of Harvard at the admissions trial in October, as did five other students and alums of color. Their testimony electrified the courtroom and was widely covered in the national press. Sally, Itzel, and Margaret last week called on President Bacow to immediately establish a comprehensive Ethnic Studies program in the letters below.

Sally Chen ’19

Thank you so much for reaching out. I would be open to a meeting with the other witnesses about moving beyond the case, but I hope to highlight the issue that was at the crux of my testimony that you read: the need for an Ethnic Studies program.

I was devastated to hear that Harvard had lost Genevieve Clutario, Assistant Professor of History and of History and Literature, to Wellesley’s Asian American Studies program, closely following the departure of Natasha Warikoo, Associate Professor of Education.

Prof. Warikoo has been an outspoken advocate for race-conscious admissions throughout the trial, serving as one of the few experts from Harvard who was invited over a dozen times to lead and advise educational events on affirmative action hosted by the organization I led, the Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies (TAPAS).

More personally, Prof. Clutario served not only as the faculty advisor for TAPAS, but was both my academic advisor and personal mentor. I would not have understood the need for race conscious admissions or had the ability to testify without her. As my deeply personal testimony outlined, her Asian American history class helped me parse through how and why my story came to be, how immigration systems and legal structures impacted communities like mine and shaped our narratives. In this case in which Asian Americans played such a prominent media role, I was chosen as the last witness to take the stand and make an impression on the judge, because I had learned the language and the skills to grapple with critical issues of race and ethnicity, including affirmative action, which came from the classes she taught.

Although her appointment was not a hire in Asian American Studies, she taught half of the Asian American Studies course offerings at the College because she knew this education was crucial. In the fall of 2017, when this case was just a murmur among students, there was not a single Asian American studies class offered in any undergraduate concentration while Prof. Clutario was on sabbatical. That year, I realized the dearth of existing structure and course offerings at Harvard and began advocating for that to change, advancing my own education and senior thesis under her incredible advising.

In my testimony, when asked, “Is the Asian-American studies class that you took part of the Ethnic Studies department at Harvard?” I was embarrassed to say, “No. There is no Ethnic Studies department.” The lack of infrastructure has been difficult enough–losing the handful of professors that we have is unthinkable.

After 47 years of student and alumni advocacy, fundraising for our own professors, and extensive meetings with our academic deans, on top of these devastating losses, I would hope the time for meetings about Ethnic Studies has passed and the university can finally propose a plan for action.

Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez ’17

Hi Larry,

Thank you so much for reaching out! I would be open to a meeting with the other witnesses about moving beyond the case, I’ll actually be in Boston to hear the closing arguments on February 13th. I hope that our meeting can highlight one of the issues central to my testimony about my time at Harvard: the need for an Ethnic Studies program.

I began advocating for Ethnic Studies at Harvard my sophomore year; as a young Xicana from Southern California, I was appalled to learn that a school as established as Harvard did not have an Ethnic Studies, Xicanx Studies, or Native American and Indigenous Studies track or minor. This lack of academic resources only intensified the isolation I felt as one of the few students of color at Harvard. As my deeply personal testimony outlined, my ethno-racial identity is of great importance to me, and some of my most meaningful experiences as an undergrad were tied to my cross-cultural coalition work and Ethnic Studies advocacy work.

I was devastated to hear that Harvard had lost Genevieve Clutario, Assistant Professor of History and of History and Literature, to Wellesley’s Asian American Studies program, following closely the tenure denial of Natasha Warikoo, Associate Professor of Education. These two professors offered some of the few Ethnic Studies Courses available at Harvard College, and to hear that they are now gone deeply concerns me. As an alum, I want to push the University to provide more resources for Ethnic Studies and for students of color generally, so that future students like myself can thrive at Harvard.

After 47 years of student and alumni advocacy and extensive meetings with academic deans, on top of these devastating losses, I would hope the time for “conversations” about Ethnic Studies has passed and the university can finally propose a plan for action.

Warmly,
Itzel

Margaret Chin ’84

Dear Larry,

Thank you so much for your kind note and your invitation to share ideas on how Harvard can build on the promise of diversity. I would love to meet with you and the other witnesses if possible. I will be in Boston on and around March 14th and April 22nd for academic conferences.

My testimony at the Harvard admissions trial centered on my experience with the Harvard admissions process and how it has improved since the Class of 1984. I truly believe that Dean Fitzsimmons and the Harvard race-conscious admissions process led the way to greater diversity on campus.

However, much more must be done to support students once they arrive. In the amicus declaration that I submitted in the admissions case, I spoke about the critical importance of Ethnic Studies. Over 35 years ago, as a leader of the Harvard/Radcliffe Asian American Association, I advocated for the hiring of Asian American faculty and administrators as well as for Asian American Studies. As an active alum, a parent, and an educator, I see these needs more than ever. Ethnic studies, specifically Asian American studies serves all students by providing a framework for understanding how we all arrived in the US, how the US is transforming, and how everyone from all backgrounds can play a role in education, politics, economics and more. Harvard’s African American Studies department is at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary studies. There is no reason why Harvard cannot build an Ethnic Studies department to complement it. It is unacceptable that Harvard lags far behind comparable institutions in Ethnic Studies.

I am upset to hear that Prof Genevieve Clutario is leaving and Prof Natasha Warikoo is searching for another position. Harvard has just lost two (out of just a few) of their Asian American/race/ethnicity scholars. When will Harvard, as an academic institution start working in tandem with its own admissions office to provide a learning environment that will help educate and train students to become future leaders of the diverse population of US and the world?