John Phelan / CC 3.0

Harvard University just launched a new specialization in its History and Literature departments: ethnic studies.

Last week's announcement of the specialization came after months of changes to the department and student-led initiatives advocating for the creation of an ethnic studies program.

Lauren Kaminsky, professor and director of studies in the History and Literature department, announced the decision in an email last week.

“The Ethnic Studies field in History and Literature emphasizes histories of racial formations within and beyond the United States,” the department’s website states.

Students entering this field will be required to take eight courses concentrating on ethnic studies as well as six other required courses for their history and literature degrees.

At the end of the fall 2016 semester, Harvard students formed a group called the Ethnic Studies Coalition and distributed a petition calling for the establishment of an Ethnic Studies department with an affiliated research center. It gained roughly 700 signatures and was delivered to members of the administration.

Penn has several programs that cover similar subjects as the Ethnic Studies program at Harvard. 

Students have protested changes to these departments in recent years.

In April 2015, students held a rally on College Green to protest the University's announcement that the Africa Center would close and the African Studies department would merge with the Center for Africana Studies. The Penn African Studies Undergraduate Advisory formed the following summer in response to the merge. 

More recently, the Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board has demanded increased University support for Asian American Studies at Penn. Following the announcement that one of the program's founding faculty members had accepted a position at Yale University, students held an open forum on ethnic studies and a rally this past February. 

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