A PACK of hostile, young Negroes "square off" against members of a belligerent white street gang in a plush conference room in William James Hall. And the weapons used in the encounter aren't broken bottles and brass knuckles but racial prejudices and fears.
"Who are they? Older? They'll kill us. Make 'em younger ... real small, pygmies with eyes like poison darts. Why are they coming? They'll want to fight! We'll talk and let them sit in back of the room," members of the white gang said when told Negroes would soon join their group.
In contrast, the Negroes unconsciously adopted the role of the aggressor. "Whites aren't as good. The white people slide; we glide. We have natural born rhythm. They can't dance. Can't sing soul. We're naturally strong. And we got better girls."
Thomas J. Cottle '59, a section man for Harvard's group self-analysis course -- Social Relations 120 -- arranged the "rumble" as part of a project designed to explore racial tensions and anxieties created by integration and, especially, by school bussing. Always a civil rights activist, Cottle first became interested in the problems of integration while he belonged to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
He regards school bussing as "tremendously frightening for both races" because of the lack of preparation for the students involved. "The white kids become the 'home team' while Negroes imported from other neighborhoods can't help but feel alienated," he said.
To investigate these problems, Cottle used the controversial methods of Soc Rel 120 with groups of volunteer Negro and white students from local high schools. Even "sophisticated" Harvard and Radcliffe students often have found this course as painfully self-revealing as it was illuminating. Many educators believed the self-analytic group could not be used outside of colleges.
But, on the basis of this experiment, which was performed last spring, Cottle has claimed, "The fundamental idea of Soc Rel 120 can definitely be used successfully with non-college groups, and even without professional group leaders."
He explains, "What do people remember most about school? Lectures? Of course not. Discussions, where students can articulate their ideas--especially when some kind of moderator or leader is present--are the most memorable and the most valuable of all learning situations."
"Today's teachers must begin to realize the importance of feeling; the purely intellectual approach to learning is only second best," he said.
The experiment was performed with the help of three undergraduates--David C. Rice '67, Leonard H. Saphier '68, and Joseph H. Pleck '68--and a Soc Rel graduate student, Patrick T. Vilani, each of whom led a series of 12 discussion meetings. These leaders, all white, received only a minimum of training for the sessions, which were taped--with the participants' knowledge--and observed by members of the Soc Rel Department. Fifty high school students took part, some of whom were known teenage "gang" members.
COTTLE tried to re-create the two bussing procedures most often used by cities, in the discussion groups' make-up.
Groups integrated at the first meeting simulated the conditions created by the "September plan," which throws students of both races together in the white schools with instructions "to get along."
In other groups, Negroes and whites met separately for the first six weeks and together for the latter half of the project. This was similar to the "June plan," presumably the more humane of the two, in which students discuss with their teachers, for a short time, the approaching start of integration.
One of the major problems, according to Cottle, was establishing an open atmosphere for both races within the framework of white authority presented by the leaders and the Harvard meeting place. "Are we guinea pigs? Is everything confidential? Are you going to write all this up?" some of the students asked.
Cottle thinks the problems of racial hatred are intensified by sexual anxieties, especially common in adolescents. "Imagine the complexity of the relationship between a 16-year-old Negro girl and a 20-year-old white group leader," he said. "We have found that much of what was considered 'racial' problems are really sexual ones: the adjustment of white girls to Negro boys, for example."