Asian American studies takes major leap forward


Jon Chase/Harvard file photo

4 min read

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) announced today a historic expansion of its Asian American studies program, enabled by a generous community of alumni who together provided more than $45 million in foundational support. The expanded program is part of the broader academic vision of Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, to strengthen the study of ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration so that Asian American studies, along with study of the Latinx and Muslim American experiences, can flourish at Harvard.

Generous gifts from Asian American alumni leaders — Joseph Y. Bae ’94 and Janice Lee ’94; Kenneth Y. Hao ’90; Lorence H. Kim ’95 and Sherry H. Hsiung; Susan Kim ’96, MBA ’03 and David Lee ’93; Roger G. Kuo ’93, MBA ’98 and Julia L. Wong; Tony W. Lee ’94 and So-Chung Shinn; Young J. Lee ’94, MBA ’98 and Young Ju Rhee; and Melissa J. Ma ’92, MBA ’96 — will endow new professorships and graduate fellowships and provide essential funding for academic research. These commitments will enable the FAS to recruit preeminent scholars, convene a thriving intellectual community of faculty and graduate students to collaborate and innovate, and provide robust resources to facilitate their work.

“I am deeply grateful for these vital investments in Asian American studies, which are foundational to our goal to augment the study of ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration across many diasporic communities, and to create momentum around research on race and inequality,” Gay said. “This is a rich, dynamic area of inquiry at the center of some of the biggest challenges we face today, and a full account of contemporary American society demands scholarship that makes visible the relevance, significance, and worth of diverse cultural backgrounds and histories. For Harvard to prepare students for lives of leadership and service in a diverse world, to have an impact on issues of public consequence, and to be a truly inclusive scholarly community — personal commitments for me — this work needs to be more fully represented both on campus and in the curriculum.”

Bae and Lee, who galvanized the community fundraising initiative, said of their gifts, “We are thrilled to support Harvard’s long-term commitment to the field of Asian American studies and Dean Gay’s vision to advance racial justice by attracting exceptional faculty and students to Harvard. 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.”

During the summer of 2020, Dean Gay outlined her intentions to help advance racial justice by amplifying teaching and research on racial and ethnic inequality. She reactivated a cluster hire with the goal of making four new faculty appointments critical to this long-term effort. She also established the Harvard College Visiting Professorship in Ethnicity, Indigeneity, and Migration to recruit leading scholars of race and ethnicity to actively engage in teaching undergraduates at Harvard College, which began in 2021–22 with the appointment of Vivek Bald from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who focuses on histories of migration and diaspora in his work. Additionally, to seed new research directions and develop the next generation of scholars, Dean Gay plans to invest in the academic pipeline by expanding the Inequality in America postdoctoral fellowship program to recruit additional early-career scholars whose work focuses specifically on issues of racial and ethnic inequality.

The generosity of this community also bolsters President Larry Bacow’s aspiration that Harvard provides students with an education that affirms profound understanding and appreciation for diverse cultural backgrounds. “I am incredibly grateful to the community for their leadership and generous investment in this vital area of study,” he said. “It is imperative that we prepare our students to lead in our modern global society. The diversity and scholarship enabled by their gifts will benefit Harvard’s entire academic community — and ultimately society — by creating new knowledge that will amplify the experiences of Asian Americans in the United States.”