Several conservative campus groups have begun campaigns to support the choice of Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell as the principal speaker at Commencement, responding to the criticism of liberals and gay groups angered by his defense of the military's ban on gays.
Both the Association Against Learning in the Absence of Religion and Morality (AALARM) and the Conservative Club have postered the campus with flyers defending Powell, the first African-American chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Harvard-Radcliffe Republican Club and Peninsula, a monthly conservative journal, have also issued statements of support of Powell's June 10 appearance.
The flyers and statements come after nearly two weeks of opposition by campus gay, bisexual and lesbian groups to Powell's invitation. The high point of the protest came last week when more than 300 people rallied in a Tercentenary Theatre event sponsored by the Leadership Council, a University-wide alliance of 15 gay organizations.
Many conservative students interviewed last night said they feel they need to voice their support of Powell because he is a qualified speaker of historical significance.
"Because of his position as an influential participant in world affairs, because of his role in this country as a senior military man, and because of the obstacles he's had to overcome...he's a wise choice as a Commencement speaker," said Christopher B. Brown '94, a senior council member of Peninsula.
E. Adam Webb '93, a member of AALARM, also said he thinks Powell was a good choice.
"I, as someone who's going to be sitting out there, support Powell because he's a very exciting speaker," said Webb. "I don't see why we have to nit-pick. We're grownups here."
AALARM's flyer, posted on campus bulletin boards throughout the past week, calls for Harvard's to "Wake up to the AALARM" and accuses "Harvard's cultural elitists" of branding the "Harlem-born, South Brooklyn-raised, Afro American as a "bigot."
"If you're sick of Harvard's Thought Police, tired of the pampered children of the affluent telling you what to think and do, or if you just enjoy kicking liberal ass, AALARM's for you," the flyer reads.
The Conservative Club flyer calls on students to call the office of President Neil L. Rudenstine to express support of Powell.
Rudenstine said yesterday afternoon that in the week following the announcement of Powell as speaker, his office received 25 to 35 phone calls, mostly opposing the choice. He added that few phone calls regarding the Commencement speaker have come in over the last week.
"[The posters] were necessary to respond to the vociferous opposition by various homosexual groups," said Ken D. DeGiorgio '93, a former president of the Conservative Club. "I think the general sentiment of the Conservative Club is that no matter who the University invited, someone would be offended."
Thomas E. Woods '94, vice-president of the Republican Club and a member of both the Conservative Club and Peninsula, estimated that about 80 percent of Commencement speakers are liberal and are as offensive to conservatives as Powell is to homosexuals.
Woods, as well as other conservative students, cited as an example last year's graduation speaker and honorary degree recipient, Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, an abortion-rights advocate.
With many gay groups on campus planning Commencement Day protests, conservative counter-protests may also be in the works.
"AALARM will keep all its options open. We have shown our whole-hearted approval through a postering campaign last week and will continue to support the decision to host Gen. Colin Powell as this year's Commencement speaker," said Robert K. Wasinger '94, a member of the AALARM presidential council.
AALARM and the Conservative Club said they do not plan any counter-protests but also said they will not rule out the possibility.
Karen E. Boyle '94, president of the Republican Club, however, said last night that she does not think "adding fuel to a fire and creating further upheaval at the Commencement exercises would be a positive contribution."
"Colin Powell represents the success and strength of the United States military," Boyle said.
"Powell has given his life to his country and that in itself is a most honorable accomplishment, not to mention the brilliant military strategy and policy he has devised. Students should be honored that such distinguished individual would accept to make the Commencement address," Boyle added