In order to address issues of race, racism and colonialism in the university, Visiting Assistant Professor of Latinx Studies Marcelo Garzo Montalvo (Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights) proposed to host a Bok Exploratory Seminar focusing on the question of decolonization at Harvard. With Harvard as an important point of departure for understanding the Western academy at large, this seminar series focused on four key terms/concepts that have shaped the foundations of modern research paradigms, pedagogies and institutional structures of higher education: (1) settler colonialism, (2) modernity/coloniality, (3) genocide/epistemicide, and (4) Eurocentrism. Each session began with a short presentation to introduce these particular frameworks as analytics for understanding structural racism in the curricular and disciplinary designs of the university, followed by break-out rooms and larger group discussions to develop next steps and ways to interrupt these dynamics in our classrooms and syllabi.
In appending a question mark to the title—"Decolonize Harvard?"—Prof. Garzo Montalvo sought to query the Harvard community’s appetite for this work, and to issue an invitation to participants, through their presence in the seminar and the work they would do subsequently, to answer that call-out. At what point in a decolonizing process, we might ask, does Harvard and the settler university cease to be recognizable as Harvard as such?
The context of this seminar emerges from efforts to respond to the national and international global reckonings with white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and other systems of power that are being brought into question yet again by another generation of activists. Summer 2020 was a particular moment of uprising that stands as the largest social movement – by the numbers – in the history of the United States as a settler nation-state, as a country. There was a re-articulation of demands for Black Lives Matter, of Land Back, of movements to stop violence against our Asian and Asian-American and Asian diasporic relatives, of Me Too, with a host of other social movements from below, which are asking us to attend to historical systems of power and violence that continue to dominate the experiences of many racialized, gendered, sexualized, and other colonized people globally, but especially here in the United States. In many ways, the seminar was a direct outgrowth of this moment and must give thanks to the intersectional organizing happening now, which is asking us to consider: how are these systems of power showing up in our different places of work, in our families, in our lives, in our communities?
Here are some of the resources and best practices that emerged from Prof. Garzo Montalvo’s leadership of the seminar: