Minority Recruitment A Third World, a Different World
The following article was written by Tony Butler '80, Gail Dunbar '80, Ruben Medina '79 and Felix Torres '79, all of whom have worked in the admissions office recruiting minority students. Several other Third World Harvard students gave their advice and criticisms to the authors.
Minority recruitment and admissions have always been disputed issues, and last month's Crimson article, "Minority Admissions--Still a Ways to Go," pointed out a very sad fact--that Third World students have not taken the initiative to express themselves on issues pertaining to the Third World community at Harvard and around the country.
It is time for Third World students to publicly express their views on issues that are crucial to the survival of the Third World student community and to re-establishment of communications between various Third World communities in the Boston area and the entire nation. For too long students have been victims of Harvard's racist policies pertaining to Third World admissions. The ramifications of the Bakke case have done such irreparable damage to Third World recruitment and admissions that we can no longer shut our eyes and pretend it is not there.
Minority recruitment and admissions have had a brief history at Harvard. Due mainly to the struggles of Third World and other progressive people during the '60s, the nation was forced to realize it could no longer condone the exploitation of its citizens of color. Harvard, too, was affected by this movement. In the fall of 1968, black students at Harvard demanded an increase in the number of black students admitted, and the right to recruit in Third World communities in hopes of increasing the working class Third World population, a group hitherto ignored.
While it is true that Harvard occasionally admitted outstanding Third World scholars such as Don Pedro Albizu Campos and W.E.B. DuBois, these had been too few and far between.
Harvard is an elitist institution. One of the manifestations of its elitism has always been racism. This racism is evident in the way Harvard has dealt with minority recruitment and admissions, as well as all other matters concerning Third World people. It is reflected in the negligible size of the minority student community here, as compared to the white community.
Harvard's attempts to appease Third World people have always come in the form of superficial concessions, which have left the problem largely unsolved. Even then every concession which has been made has come as the result of a long and hard struggle with the University. Harvard has never demonstrated a true interest in increasing the number of Third World students on campus. The first substantial increase in the number of black students came in the fall of 1969, as a result of demands placed on Harvard by black students in the spring of 1968.
The minority student recruitment program also began at this time, when black students began making trips to predominantly black high schools. Between 1969 and 1973 black student recruitment had expanded to include high schools all over the country. During the same period, Harvard hired three black admissions officers. This also came about as the result of student struggle and pressure on the Harvard administration. Ironically enough, these three black admissions officers were used by the admissions office to justify the discontinuation of recruitment by black students. This assertion was of course ridiculous, as the black admissions officers numbered three out of a staff of 20 and were not allowed to focus exclusively on increasing black(or any Third World) admissions.
How could three people effectively and with due consideration visit their assigned areas; read hundreds of applications and assess them; recruit in all the major black communities; present candidates' cases before the admissions committee; lend support and help all student recruitment efforts; lead a personal life; and maintain their sanity at the same time? It was clear to the students that this type of tokenism was being used by Harvard to undermine the Third World recruitment effort. The perseverance of Black students in questioning this force resulted in the rein-statement of black student recruitment in 1977.
In 1970 eight Puerto Rican students (the entire Puerto Rican population at Harvard at that time) had walked into the dean of admissions' office and demanded that more Puerto Rican students be accepted into the College. This resulted in the establishment of the Puerto Rican sector of student recruitment. In 1973 the Chicano recruitment program was established, also with the pressure of students.
Again, tokenism characterizes Hispanic student recruitment. It was apparent in the hiring of "Latin" assistant admissions officers. These officers, one Chicano and one Puerto Rican, did over 40 hours of work while only getting paid for 15 of them. At the same time, these officers were full-time graduate students, and although they were working in the capacity of admissions officers, they were not allowed a vote on the admissions committee.
Native Americans proved vulnerable to Harvard's racist policies in an easier fashion. The small Indian population in the U.S. has limited political force, and it affects the American elite even less. The affirmative action laws and statutes could not force Harvard to advance to even a token position in this instance. The present Native American population in the University still reflects this sad fact.
Harvard also broke the law in regards to Asian-Americans. The history of Asian-Americans is one of an oppressed minority. One need only recall the conditions of intense discrimination and cruelty under which they helped build the West, or the living conditions of many inner city Asians today to see this. Title VI, Chapter 60 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 recognized Asian-Americans as a minority group--but Harvard didn't. It was only after a contested struggle by Asian-American students on campus that minority status was granted them.
Everything concerning minority admissions and recruitment has been acquired through struggle, everything from getting the program, to making it work, to keeping the program. The hardest struggle, however, has been to get Harvard to adopt fair criteria for Third World people. Harvard has certain "objective" and "subjective" criteria that determine if a person is to be accepted. When applied to Third World students, these criteria show that Harvard thinks America is still the land of the rich and the white.
The criterion that shows most clearly Harvard feels this is the land of the rich and white is the so-called "objective" admissions criterion Harvard uses. We have been constantly told how important the Scholastic Achievement Tests are for minority students. A large part of the admissions office effort for Third World students is based on a search list that includes Third World students who have done well on the PSATs. The SAT is specifically designed to test the "average" students, i.e., the average middle class white student. Clearly, not many Third World students fall within that definition of an average student--although some try.
Further, it has been shown that the SATs have little or no correlation with the future academic or professional success of minority students. How could SATs possibly test the verbal capabilities of a Third World student, when many of the words used in the test do not exist in his or her environment? Words such as canopy, blender, pantry or perambulator are common for the average white student. But they are not familiar to minority students. A Third World student's depth of assimilation into a white society cannot be the only judge of future performance.
The admissions office makes even less of a pretense of being fair when it comes to subjective criteria. These criteria always involve evaluation by an individual who seldom can or will be fair to Third World students. An example of this is the way the admissions office looks at grade point averages.
How can an admissions officer whose life experience has largely consisted of trees, birds, babbling brooks and grandma's applie pie understand the graffiti, garbage and noise of a city ghetto? A person from one environment cannot possibly be fair in evaluating the success of an applicant from a totally different environment, and yet this is what the admissions office does.
Does an "A" average at an inner-city school have the same value as an "A" average at Exeter? We think it does, but the admissions office doesn't. The amount of effort, determination and motivation is actually infinitely greater on the part of the Third World student who must deal with overcrowded classes, incompetent teachers, discouraging and limited counseling services, violence and language barriers--not to mention the oppressive conditions in the neighborhoods of these Third World students.
One would expect the teacher recommendations, another important subjective criterion, to give some insight into the performance of Third World students. Here also the Third World is shortchanged. The teacher cannot possibly give a good and informative recommendation for a student when he barely knows the students. This is inevitable when the teacher is trying to effectively teach 50 or more students. In addition to this, the typical situation is that many teachers do not sympathize with, understand, or have confidence in the aspirations of their Third World students--largely because most of those teachers are white.
Even if the teacher writes a good recommendation, that involvement stops outside the classroom.
Finally the most subjective and least fair judgement that is made upon Third World students is that made by the alumni. It is unrealistic to expect that alumni, most of whom were here when Harvard was an all-white institution and have not reconciled themselves to its integration, will fairly evaluate Third World students. Even those alumni who do not show open contempt for Third World students lack an understanding and appreciation of the Third World experience.
The typical alumni interviewer is a middle-aged preppie, financially successful, who is primarily interested in seeing students of his own ilk admitted. He seldom if ever has any extensive contact with Third World people. He continues to judge success in terms of a white upper middle class experience, and condemns Third World people for not living such an experience. The admissions office makes it clear that alumni interviews and the alumni are vital parts of the process, yet nothing is being done to change the all-white and unfair character of this and other parts of admissions and recruitment.
The above is even further reflected in the University's concept of diversity. Admissions officers stress the importance of diversity in considering the composition of each class. They actively seek classical musicians, newspaper editors, alumni children, club presidents, farmers, poets, et cetera, all for the sake of a diverse student body. While the concept of diversity is a good one, as administered by Harvard it works against Third World students.
All types of extracurricular activities are important in determining the concept of diversity. This is fine, but certain things must be understood. First, many minority students have jobs so they can help their families--and therefore these people cannot participate in the activities that look so good on the application. Their jobs are slighted in favour of the school newspaper, the class presidency, debating championship, et cetera.
Poor High Schools
The emphasis on extracurricular activities works on the assumption that high schools offer a large number of extracurricular activities. But the reality is that many Third World people go to substandard schools. One of the writers of this article went to a high school so overcrowded that athletics were the only activities offered.
When dealing with the average Third World student, two questions must be asked: does his or her school offer the student who attends it the opportunity' to participate in extracurricular activities; and, does the student have time to participate in those activities offered. The question of how the admissions office percieves those activities participated in by Third World students is also important. Is the conga player seen as important as the violin players? He should--be after all, the conga is as important an instrument in Third World culture as the violin is in white society--but the admissions office does not seem to agree.
One final consideration given during the admissions process is geographic distribution. Harvard sees itself as a national university, and it strives to have students from all over the country. Harvard will reject a student solely because he or she comes from a geographic area that the admissions office feels is overrepresented. Over 50 per cent of all Puerto Ricans living in the continental U.S. live in New York City, so obviously when Harvard limits the applicants it accepts from New York City it adds another barrier on the path to more Puerto Ricans coming to Harvard.
The recruitment effort this year, as in past years, has been a long trail of disappointments' and frustrations because of the admissions office's refusal to commit itself to Third World students. This year's budget, like everything else concerning student recruitment, was acquired after a long struggle. Still, the budget was insufficient to cover all the areas that needed to be covered. Later the office had the gall to require that some staff travel come out of the student budget. The students were entangled in an increasing web of bureaucratic responsibilities. Endless letter writing, continuing deadlines, forms of all types and shapes all made it difficult for students to work on their prime responsibility--recruitment.
The only Native American recruiting trip was arbitrarily cancelled. After students had been promised input into the hiring of Third World admissions staff, such input was ignored. The Puerto Rican students were asked to suggest candidates for a part-time admissions position that would be concerned with Puerto Rican admissions and recruitment. Several candidates were recommended, but the recommended were ignored in favour of a candidate hand-picked by L. Fred Jewett '57, dean of admissions and financial aid, who did not even have to go through the normal application process.
Finally, an example of the backlash of the Bakke case was the abolishment of the Minority Review Committee, which reviewed decisions of the admissions committee not to accept Third World students. This had been the only opportunity that Third World student had to be understood on their own grounds. But despite all the trouble, minority student recruiters are still responsible for the bulk of the outreach to inner city and Third World high schools--which is why we must keep and expand our toehold.
There is a need for Third World people to recruit their own. Staff people insensitive to the experience of Third World people cannot and will not do a good job recruiting people they do not understand. Nor will they do a good job evaluating them. What is needed are more full-time Third World admissions officers, officers who share the same background as the large majority of Third World applicants.
These officers could more clearly recognize the strengths of Third World candidates, and have a better understanding of the role that a Harvard education can play in meeting the needs of the Third World community. What is not needed are Uncle Tom staff people--and the only way to guarantee this not happening is to have student input on the final selection process.
We are making a demand for recognition of our uniqueness, as Third World people. It is a recognition that Harvard gives to athletes, musicians, and alumni children, but not us. Until recognition of our uniqueness is made Harvard cannot claim to be a truly diverse, hence great, university. Unless Harvard uses and legitimizes those people best able to recognize and understand the talents of Third World students and staff, these goals will never be achieved. This recognition must be a dynamic process, not merely as compensation for past oppression, but as acknowledgement of the fact that Third World people comprise a large and growing proportion of this nation's population--a portion of the population that will no longer accept being denied the wealth and opportunity they helped create.