Harvard Takes Steps to Offset Bigotry

Racial Tensions on College Campuses

The list of colleges that have seen racial brawls this year is long. At Columbia University, long considered a bastion of student liberalism, a small-scale race riot broke out in March, when a Black and a white student hurled insults at each other and initiated a fight that involved at least a dozen students.

At the University of Michigan, a student slipped a pamphlet proclaiming "open-season" on "porch monkees and jigaboos" under the door of a Black students meeting. In addition, a campus disc jockey on a school radio station caused an uproar after he broadcast racist jokes.

Closer to Harvard, a large racial brawl broke out at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after the October conclusion of the World Series.

Despite increased racial tension on campus nationwide, the University has experienced few incidences of racism. While minority students say that racism exists and is pervasive, it has not appeared at Harvard in the violent forms it has at other universities.

The sole reported racial incident occurred in January, when someone threw an orange through the door to Currier House, where a Black student was manning the bells desk. The Black student also received a call from someone who said, "Negro hit squad strikes again."

But minorities say that racism should not be measured in terms of violent incidents, but that it is an attitudinal problem that is damaging even when it is not blatant. Though many say that this attitude is not necessarily increasing on the Harvard campus, it definitely exists.

"There haven't been any really violent acts, but there is most definitely a racist attitude on campus," says David G. Latimore '88, director of Harvard's Afro-American Cultural Center.

"The tension is not as great [at Harvard]. There haven't been the incidents like at the University of Massachusetts or at Dartmouth," says Kenneth W. Johnson '87. But "there is still quite a bit of racism," he adds.

Minority students speak of less obvious racial incidents. Some say they frequently experience racial slurs or jokes, and others say police ask for their ID cards more often than they ask white students. Others complain of "subtle racism," such as a white student's questioning a minority student's qualifications to be at the University.

"A lot of [non-minority students] think that Black students are here just because they're Black. That's not true," says Leah R. Johnson '87.

Minority students attribute the recent increase in racial violence nationwide to the Reagan Administration's attitude and policies toward minorities and to Americans' growing apathy toward race relations. "The Reagan Administration sends signals to America that it's cool to be racist," says Latimore.

But the Harvard administration this year took several significant steps to deal with racial issues, and states that race relations at the University are better now than ever before. "I think we have some problems, but they're not getting worse, and the problems we have, we're dealing with reasonably well," says William H. Bossert '59, chairman of the faculty committee on the Harvard Foundation, which was created in 1981 to deal with minority concerns.

This year the administration created a student-faculty Racial Harassment Committee to determine precedent and procedure for dealing with racial harassment, and a student-faculty Academic Affairs Committee to deal with increasing racial awareness by means of the curriculum. The Academic Affairs Committee is currently investigating ways to increase the number of courses on American ethnic minorities and the number of minority faculty members.

Since its inception in February, the Racial Harassment has reviewed procedures for filing complaints, and plans to announce specific policies next year. "The committee is a fitting way to combat the subtle racism which has been allowed to fester and ferment" at Harvard, says Shannah B. Braxton '88, former co-president of the Black Student's Association, earlier this year.

But despite the administration's steps, some question the University's sincerity and effectiveness in addressing minority concerns. Many minority students feel that the Harvard Foundation, the principle body to deal with racial issues, can not deal effectively with the problem of racism.