History Repeats Itself

Three years ago, the Afro-American Studies Department had one tenured professor and students decided to do something about it. After a series of meetings and a dramatic overnight sit-in in University Hall, they got the changes they wanted. Now it is 1993, and activists have changed their concerns. But despite many differences, in some ways it seems like...

The students chants and cries of 1990 are still ringing in the cars of Harvard's veteran administrators today. At least it seems that way.

On March 5, 1993, nine student groups came together to call for ethnic studies in the curriculum and diversification of the faculty.

They protested during Junior Parents Weekend, dramatically drawing attention to their cause and focusing administrators' attention on the issue.

Flasback to October 22, 1990: Five Afro-American Studies concentrators, angry at the lack of support for their department, staged a protest in Massachusetts Hall.

Refusing to leave then President Derek C. Bok's office, they sat in for two hours after a meeting with Bok, then Acting Dean of the Faculty Henry Rosovsky and other authorities.

Two days later, 180 students protested in front of University Hall for greater faculty diversity.

Ultimately, on November 16--in a story that has earned a place in the lore of student activism at Harvard--Afro-American Studies concentrators and Black Students Association members slept over at University Hall, refusing to leave for 23 hours and calling for support for Afro-American Studies.

Today's students are in many ways extremely different: The coalition is more broadly representative of the campus' minority communities, and its concerns are more diverse as well.

Courses in Latino American studies and Asian American studies are on today's agenda, as well as a more representative faculty.

On the flip side--despite Harvard's storied institutional inertia--the faces of the administration have changed also: Activists take their calls for action not to Bok and Rosovsky, but to President Neil L. Rudenstine, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and Provost Jerry R. Green.

As the players have changed, so too has the dynamic of Harvard's ongoing institutional debate over ethnic studies.

On returning to campus following the 23-hour sleep-in by Afro-American Studies concentrators, Rosovsky, a veteran of the 1969 protests that sparked the formation of the Afro-Am department, was not particularly overwhelmed.

"I've been through quite a few," he said.

Bok, as well, had been tried during his 20-year tenure by the fires of student activism.