Statement on Anti-Black Racism and Antiracism Initiatives

June 18, 2020

Dear Members of the EALC Community,

We are heartbroken and outraged over the killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and countless other victims of police brutality and racist violence. Sadly, these are only the most recent examples of centuries of violence and oppression leveled against Black people in the United States and around the world. The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations stands united with protestors against anti-Black racism and violence in the belief that Black Lives Matter. 

Members of the EALC community, our students foremost among them, have been speaking out, protesting, and educating themselves and others about the fight for racial justice. As important as these individual efforts are and will continue to be, there is much that we need to do as a community of students, faculty, and staff to understand how biases and racism operate, actively challenge instances when they occur, and work toward an antiracist future.

Education.  During the coming months, the Department will research and work hard to implement antiracist pedagogy. We aim to develop training workshops for faculty, students, and staff to gain a better understanding of how systemic racism affects our interactions, pedagogy, and curricula. We are working with Asia-related centers on campus to coordinate programming that amplifies the work of Black scholars of Asia and compiling recommended readings on anti-Black racism and sources on racism within Asia, as well as on Afro-Asian solidarity.

Representation.  The percentage of Black scholars in Asian studies fields is woefully inadequate because of institutional obstacles, conscious and unconscious biases, and endemic anti-Black racism. This must change. We hope to develop concrete strategies to address this problem both inside and outside Harvard. In particular, developing pathways into Asian studies for Black and other students of color, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, is an urgent priority.

Communication.  Adding new channels of communication is crucial. We are now finalizing the creation of a liaison committee representing students in a range of disciplines, regional interests, and stages in their own studies. This new group will be chosen by the students themselves. Its activities, combined with regularly scheduled town halls for students with the chair, DGS, and DUS, will help to create greater opportunities for constructive and candid conversations. 

Accountability.  We will convene a committee of faculty, students, and staff on diversity and inclusion in the Department to coordinate the efforts above and to determine what is working and what is not, being responsive to input from the community.

This statement is a first step toward what will surely be a long and sometimes uncomfortable process of learning and change. We look forward to undertaking this task in collaboration with our graduate and undergraduate students and faculty and staff colleagues within the Department, across Harvard, and beyond. Our community’s deep engagement with East Asia will help us contribute to broader conversations about antiracism that go beyond the particular dynamics of the United States. 

We acknowledge and give credit to the students who have shown leadership on these issues, and who have raised our consciousness in the Department. Let us take action together as responsive listeners and partners to make EALC a space free of discrimination and prejudice, where we can exchange ideas to advance the cause of racial justice, diversity, and equity.

David Howell, Chair
On behalf of the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations