Getting Their Act Together

Taking Note

ADMITTEDLY MR. AVEROF'S Greek belly dancer was more than you could stomach at three in the afternoon. And the two-hour-plus performance in Sanders ran late and too long.

In spite of technical difficulties, the organizers of Saturday's Cultural Rhythms Festival really put on a show. The Harvard Foundation, which footed the bill for the first-time event, deserves credit for taking a small step toward "improving race relations on campus" and a large one toward improving its own relations--much criticized in the past--with minority student groups.

The festival not only inspired student organizations to get their act together, it also put the Harvard Foundation's money where its mouth is. The foundation is the administration's alternative to a Third World students' center and has been recently criticized for not initiating substantial progress in this direction.

One might read an international cultural festival in the '80s as a bourgeois display in contrast to the urgent intensity of minority students' anti-establishment protests 15 years ago. Still, it has taken that long for minority groups to get together the chutzpah and the funds to throw a party on the scale of the CultFest for the entire community. This says something about the potential of such "cultural" events for changing the face of campus life.

ADECEPTIVE SIDE of Harvard's much-vaunted cosmopolitan image is its failure to encourage the students who make up the mythic Diversity to speak out for their interests. Even as the guest list for Harvard's upcoming 350th bash is being completed, students have voiced complaints that the organizers failed to invite any minority performance groups such as Ballet Folklorico or the Black Kuumba Singers to the affair. The point is that students of minority backgrounds insist on being appreciated for their differences, not in spite of them.

One of the ironies of the cultural festival--the mark of both its short-comings and its success--was that it seemed to benefit those on stage as much as those in the audience. If you took away the Din and Tonics, Debbie Allen's guest-star appearance, and President Bok's attendance among the crowd in Sanders Theater, what you had, simply, was a unique chance for students from minority backgrounds to express their place in the community as vital, contributing members; the proceeds from the event went to benefit local charities, not the minority groups involved.

As emcee Allen put it, you learn a lot about people just by trying out their strange habits and foods. While some may nostalgically recall the struggles a few years ago to get minority student activities listed on the Freshman Week Calendar, there are means other than waving angry picket signs for provoking people's awareness of cultural differences.

The biggest problem with this year's festival was inadequate publicity. While it's unfortunate that more of the student body couldn't be lured to the festivities, it is to be hoped that it won't take as much work next time around to convince people to come out and share in a good time.

The author participated in the Cultural Festival.