Not Admitted, But Solicited?
THIS semester Harvard's development office asked students to submit their grandparents' addresses for informational mailings about the University.
Information is usually a precursor to solicitation. The development office has not yet considered asking grandparents for donations, according to Margaret Mansfield, the development officer in charge of soliciting gifts from non-alumni parents. And it should not. Grandparents of current students should not be solicited.
The Harvard of our grandparents' generation was a Harvard that most of them could not have attended. People who were barred from attending this college--because of income, ethnicity or geography--in their youth should not be asked to fund it now.
According the admissions report in the 1921 Official Registrar, which covered the years from 1917 to 1920, 60 percent of Harvard students were form private schools; that compares to 34 percent now. Eighty-eight percent of students were from New England and Atlantic states, compared to 53 percent today. Three percent hailed from Western states, compared to 15 percent today. Only a handful of students came from foreign countries--between .1 and .4 percent--and today foreign students comprise 6 percent of the student body.
There were only a few Asian students in the Class of 1921; now Asian-Americans comprise 13 percent of the student body. In 1909 there were five Blacks--.02 percent--compared to 11 percent today.
HARVARD leadership furthered racial and ethnic prejudice. President A. Lawrence Lowell advocated national immigrant restriction and a quota on Jews at Harvard. Other Harvard officials urged limiting the Harvard Corporation to Protestants, to keep out Catholics and Jews. President Charles Eliot propounded the usual stereotypes of powerful Jewish capitalists and suggested that Jews move their sabbath to Sunday to comply with Blue Laws.
Campus social organizations excluded Italians, Jews and Blacks. Black students were barred from living in first-year dormitories. Lowell wrote to a parent of a Black student, "I am sure you will understand why, from the beginning, we have not thought it possible to compel men of different races to reside together."
Many grandparents--immigrants or residents of far-off places--could not have afforded Harvard. The problem was exacerbated by prejudice; for example, the number of scholarships awarded to Jewish immigrants was curtailed.
In our grandparents' time, "Harvard was not the star it is now," not a draw for bright students nationwide, according to of Ford Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus David Riesman '31. Campus life was bifurcated by the social elite and "commuter grinds," Riesman said.
FORTUNATELY, Harvard has changed. "Diversity is the hallmark of the Harvard/Radcliffe experience," brags the brochure containing the Harvard College application.
Our grandparents can partake only vicariously in this newfound diversity. They worked hard to ensure that this current pool of talented and diverse students would be available; this was their contribution to Harvard. Asking them to donate money would be an attempt to profit from their pride in their offspring.
But two generations and an evolving admissions policy cannot camoflauge the fact that many grandparents would not have been welcome here. Such personal ties to Harvard underlay most individual donations. Eliot, explaining the rationale behind giving, said "the men in this generation who have had the benefit of these funds, and who succeeded in after life, will pay manyfold to their successors..."
This logic applies to our generation: we can contemplate gifts, because we were allowed to partake in the Harvard community. Harvard still has a long way to go to admit enough women and students from Native American or poor or Black or Hispanic backgrounds and hire a more diverse faculty. But financial aid and recruitment show a step in the right direction.
Most of our grandparents never made the Harvard connection. A sampling of a dozen current students turned up the following information about what grandparents were at the age they could have been attending Harvard: a Jewish store clerk, an Irish bar bouncer, a Texas construction worker, a New York Italian cop, a Black post office worker, a Connecticut farmer, a Texas reverend, a Jewish actuary, an Italian cleaner, a Black teacher, a Puerto Rico businessman and pool hall owner, a senator in Taiwan and a Naval doctor in China. The majority did not attend college.
HARVARD prestige is not contagious or genetic. Most grandparents have had little connection to this type of community. A friend's grandparents get Harvard confused with Hartford, mine mistake it for "Harward," others mix it up with Howard. Harvard is so far from their lives and achievements that they are not the ones to keep the myth alive.
Our grandparents should not have to give to Harvard because it is Harvard. Everything The Name is known for is what kept them out--the old-time prestige, the Puritanical roots, the grooming ground for the white Protestant male power elite.
Giving is making a personal commitment to an institution. And people should not support an institution that would not have tolerated them or treated them equally. To do so would be to block out history. No one can afford to ignore the record of discrimination at this academic stronghold, nor let the solutions of the present overshadow memories of a problematic past.