Major Problems

CW: Racial violence

The Task Force on Race, consisting of various administrators and faculty members, was formed in the fall of 1996 to examine the impact of race on the Tufts undergraduate community, culminating in a 1997 report that identified the discrepancies between the University’s “commitment to promoting diversity within the student body, the faculty, as well as in the curriculum” and its actual demographic population. Over the following years, students and faculty staged protests and published articles in support of an Asian American Studies (AAST), Latino Studies (LST), and Native Studies curricula at Tufts.

The report specifically recommended that the lack of Race and Ethnic Studies courses be addressed. It encouraged the administration to “incorporate United States race and ethnic content in the existing curriculum,” in addition to the employment of “at least three new tenure track positions in American Race and Ethnic Studies.”

While the students and faculty remained hopeful, what became increasingly apparent was the administration’s failure to respond to the needs of both parties. In 2001, Aaron Chiu (A ‘03), along with other signatories, wrote in The Tufts Daily, “The University has not hired any permanent faculty to teach in this field [of AAST],” despite the Task Force’s recommendation.

The push for AAST had significant support from faculty members as well. Before the 2001-2002 academic year, the Asian American Curricular Transformation (AACT) Project, a group of faculty members and students, sought to institutionalize AAST by advocating for the hire of tenure-track AAST faculty, developing AAST courses, and raising student awareness of AAST within the Tufts curriculum.

For interdisciplinary programs like AAST and LST, tenure-track faculty members must be hired under another department—they cannot be housed in those programs. After the combined lobbying efforts of students and faculty, the University officially announced in the spring of 2002 that they planned to hire a tenure-track professor of AAST within the English department.

However, the position remained vacant because of “irreconcilable differences” between the American Studies program and English department, effectively ending the search between these two departments. According to AACT’s website, “Students tried again immediately to initiate a search in Spring 2003 through the History department but their proposal was rejected by the administration, which declared that the department had already received its fair share of search approvals the year before.”

Amidst these defeats, the LST minor became the newest addition to the University by Spring 2004. This victory was spearheaded by Deborah Pacini Hernandez, retired Associate Professor of Anthropology, Mark A. Hernández, former Associate Professor of Spanish in Romance Language, Rubén Salinas Stern, Latino Center Director, and Adriana Zavala, Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Latin America, Latinx Art, and Director on leave of LST.

Similar to the organizing challenges that AAST advocates faced, Zavala said, “When we had to recruit departments to dedicate tenure-track positions for Latino Studies, it didn’t happen…That’s the frustration we’ve had over these past few years. I can’t tell you the amount of hours that we’ve invested in trying to persuade a department to hire a faculty member focusing on Latino Studies.”

Under the Spanish department, Hernández was in a tenure-track position, teaching Spanish literature courses, in addition to “Chicano Literature & Culture: Communities and Identities,” which was taught in English. Ultimately, he was not tenured due to departmental differences, eventually leading to his departure in 2008. Today, both AAST and LST struggle to house additional tenure-track faculty within these respective fields of expertise.

With faculty and student allies, AACT members staged a protest surrounding Ballou Hall on April 28, 2005, demanding that the University fulfill its commitment to hiring a tenure-track AAST professor. In addition to their protests, AACT compiled a list of resources to support their movement. In a section titled “What Can I Do to Support AAST?”, the organization suggested students enroll in the only three available AAST courses: Asian American Music, Asian America, and Asian American Perspectives. The latter two were taught by current faculty members Jean Wu, Senior Lecturer in American Studies, and Grace Talusan (A ‘94), part-time English lecturer, respectively. Despite their continued commitment to teaching AAST courses, both professors are non-tenured.

Talusan has taught Asian American Perspectives since the spring of 2004. She continues teaching this course because, when she was a Tufts undergraduate, she took the only Asian American literature course offered at the time. She recalled, “I could not articulate the invisibility and erasure I experienced…I felt proud when I learned about our community––how they fought for social justice; they wrote books; they contributed to our society in many rich and meaningful ways. Learning that opened up possibilities for how I saw my life.”

On April 9, 2009, a drunk White first-year attacked members of the Korean Students Association (KSA) with racial epithets and physical violence. As the attacker left the scene, he shouted, “Fuck you all…Go back to your fucking country, you don’t belong in this country.” This racial bias incident garnered national attention, highlighting the University’s lack of representation in its curriculum and faculty.

A week later, a rally was held to promote awareness of the hate incident and demanded that the University make institutional changes. Their first demand was “Increased visibility and incorporation of Asian American, not Asian, experiences within the curriculum to educate and promote awareness on the Asian American racial identity.”  Subsequently, there was an incentive for the administration to move forward with an AAST minor, which was passed three years later, because it would alleviate culpability from the University.

The AAST minor finally coalesced in Fall 2012, alongside the establishment of an Africana Studies major and minor. But this would not have occurred without the work of Pan African Alliance (PAA) members, who had spent several years writing a resolution, organizing negotiation meetings, and holding protests to include Africana Studies in the curriculum––a movement that has lasted over 40 years. In November of 2011, PAA members and allies occupied an administrative office in Ballou Hall, presenting a list of demands to establish an Africana Studies program.

This occupation set a precedent for the coalition of different organizations to work together and fight for Race and Ethnic Studies. In an interview with the Tufts Observer published on March 26, 2012, PAA member Brionna Jimerson mentioned that a few of the organizations that supported this movement were the Tufts Asian American Alliance (AAA), which would later become the Tufts Asian Student Coalition, and the Association of Latin American Students.

Concurrently, the 1997 report that recommended the employment of at least three tenure-track faculty materialized when the University hired Lisa Lowe, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Humanities, Pawan Dhingra, Chair and Professor of Sociology, and Ujjayant Chakravorty, Professor of Economics.

These victories stemmed from collaborative efforts between students and faculty members. On March 11, 2012, students staged an AAST teach-in, which was co-sponsored by  AAA and PAA. Additionally, former Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Joanne Berger-Sweeney, created the Race and Ethnicity Working Group, comprised of faculty members from various departments, in the spring of 2011. Kris Manjapra, Associate Professor in History, Interim Director of the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora (RCD), and a member of the working group, said, “This was part of a long-term project to conceive a body within the curriculum, which eventually came to be known as the RCD. The concrete goals of this working group were the establishment of an [AAST and Africana Studies] curricula and a cluster hire that would bring in faculty to join the RCD project by the end of 2012.”

The aforementioned RCD project unfolded within the year of 2014. Once again, these efforts were a product of the collaboration between students and faculty members. Manjapra stated, “The petition that led to the Colonialism Studies [minor] in April 2014 had more than 300 signatures by students.” It was unanimously passed in a faculty meeting that year, which was established alongside the Consortium of Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora (RCD), housing the programs of Africana, American, Asian American, Colonialism, and Latino Studies.


The Tufts archives reveal the patterns and strategies that students and faculty members employed to prompt the administration to fulfill its commitment to promoting diversity within the student body, faculty, and curriculum.

The future holds promise for the expansion of Asian American, Colonialism, and Latino Studies from minors to majors. However, the delayed process of incorporating more courses is disheartening for both students and faculty members.

Natalie Masuoka, Associate Professor in Political Science and Director of AAST, said, “One of the challenges we face is that we can’t offer more classes because that stretches students out too thin, creating red flags for the administration to question, ‘How much do we really need these kind of classes?’ Our strategy is to slowly roll out larger number of classes over time…students are frustrated with the lack of courses, but we’re trying to communicate to them that this is part of the constraints that we have when we’re trying to build a program.”

Sophomore Patrick Mahaney, who is attempting to finish their AAST minor, said, “Even after generations of fighting for Ethnic Studies and winning victories like the institutionalization of the AAST minor, very little has changed as far as consistent course offerings and tenured faculty members go. If you look at the course listings for Fall 2017, there is one course that explicitly centers Asian American issues in its title, and this course has been taught since before the AAST minor was created and is taught by a non-tenure track faculty member who has been at the University since before the AACT was created in 2001. It makes me wonder—what did institutionalizing this minor really do?”

The history and expansion of these respective minors poses an imperative question for the proposal of a Critical Jewish, Muslim, and Native Studies minor. Matt Hooley, Visiting Professor of Native American Studies, expressed high hopes in the push for Native Studies. He said, “We have had classes, there is willingness, and there are no obstructions to having a Native Studies minor…There is an active interest in making a tenure-track hiring of Native Studies that is being explored… and I know that many of the candidates for that position are Indigenous people.”

Manjapra expressed similar sentiments in the hopes of establishing a Critical Jewish and Muslim Studies minor at Tufts, stating, “Both would be valuable and important on campus.”

Tracing the history of AAST discloses a pattern that we should recognize in the pursuit of establishing these programs. It will require a collaborative effort between student activists and faculty allies, transparency in the administrative process that spans across all interdisciplinary programs, and administrative support.

While the former two conditions are unquestionably certain, what remains unclear is the administration’s investment in the future of Race and Ethnic Studies. The cyclical discourse regarding Race and Ethnic Studies between students and faculty members remains as a continuity, calling into question the administration’s role, or lack thereof, in its contribution to sustaining the programs housed under the RCD.

Almost 15 years ago, in an article published in The Tufts Daily on November 21, 2002, Laura Horwitz (A ‘03) and Pam Chu (A ‘03) advised, “In order to create a unified home for Race and Ethnic Studies, American Studies needs to be made [into] a department with primary hiring power.”

Perhaps the solution to this problem could come from a transformation of the RCD, which houses all of these interdisciplinary programs, into a “traditional” department where tenured faculty could be housed, ensuring the future of Race and Ethnic Studies at Tufts.

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