Student leaders of some campus ethnic organizations distanced themselves yesterday from a letter, written by the co-presidents of the Asian American Association, which called Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III "insensitive."
Representatives of five such groups, including four of AAA's sister groups, said they were unaware of the letter before its release and disagreed with its major charges.
In the letter, released to The Crimson and the administration Wednesday, Joan R. Cheng '95 and Haewon Hwang '95 alleged that Epps was insensitive to Asian students, and criticized both the Dean's Handbook on Race Relations and his decision to commission an independent race relations study.
Epps responded strongly to the allegations Friday, calling them "unsubstantiated smears."
Students who have dealt personally with Epps strongly challenged the letter's central allegation that the Dean lacks "true concern for students."
"I'm very supportive of Dean Epps," said Austin W. So '96, conference chair of AAA and political chair of the Korean Students Association. "He's very caring about students."
Mona M. Patel '94, president of the South Asian Association, said that Epps shows concern for organizations as well as individuals.
"My dealings with Dean Epps have always been fine. He has always been very open to hearing the concerns of the South Asian Association," Patel said.
Several leaders of Asian organizations said that the letter did not represent the views of campus ethnic groups, despite Cheng and Hwang's assertion that the issues raised were "considered and discussed for most of the year."
Cynthia S. Wu '94, co-president of the Chinese Students Association, said "the issue of Dean Epps" was raised "briefly" at the last monthly meeting of the campus' 10 Asian organizations.
Student leaders, who did not attend the meeting, were unaware that Cheng and Hwang were writing the letter, and expressed displeasure yesterday at its content and tone.
"I thought [the letter] was really inflammatory," said Sandra Chang '93, former president of the Chinese Students Association. "I think the letter was a last-ditch effort to do something big at the end of the year to make a statement. I have no recollection of any students receiving insensi- tive remarks from Dean Epps."
So also stressed that Cheng and Hwang do not represent the opinions of all AAA members.
"I don't think any officer [of AAA] can say they represent all of the AAA, and especially all the Asian community on campus," So said."
Leaders contacted did not share Cheng and Hwang's criticisms of the newly published Handbook on Race Relations.
Patel and Alvin L. Bragg Jr. '95, president of the Black Students Association, called the Handbook a valuable compilation of resources at Harvard for race relations, although Bragg agreed with Cheng and Hwang that money spent on the handbook might have been better spent by student associations.
Students leaders also did not agree with the letter's censure of the Harvard Negotiation Project's study on race relations.
Cheng and Hwang said that the Project, commissioned by Epps, shows "a lack of consideration for the students" by not dealing with students directly. But Patel said the Project "made a huge effort to interview all of us [students]" and called the letter's gripe "inaccurate."
Students did support the charge that Epps fails to involve students in decision-making, but called this a general failure of the administration, not a personal failure of Epps.
"I think that the article is indicative of a larger problem," Bragg said. "The bureaucracy which the University has created to address issues of race complicates and confuses matters more than it streamlines them and makes them accessible. I fault the authorities that are higher than Epps."
Despite their criticisms, student leaders did support Cheng and Hwang's right to express their concerns.
"Although we support AAA, I wasn't as informed on the issue," said Benjamin Lui, president of the Hong Kong Club. "My support is in that if they have grievances they should address them to Dean Epps. My support is more for the sake of communication."
Stephen E. Frank contributed to the reporting for this story.