Diversity Flourishes On Council

Blacks, Latinos, Women See Gains

Many of Harvard's undergraduate organizations have been unable to achieve ethnic and racial diversity which matches that of the student body.

But not the Undergraduate Council. Harvard's student government stands out for its diversity, though council members stress there is more to be done. Consider, for example, three of the top four officials on the council. President Carey W. Gabay '94, Treasurer Jamila A. Braswell '95 and Secretary Brandon C. Gregoire '95 are all important powerbrokers in the student government. All are experienced, with each having served at least one semester on the council's executive board before holding their current posts.

And all three are African-American.

This is not a new phenomenon. Minority students also held important posts last semester.

Of the four council-wide elected posts--president, vice president, trea- surer and secretary--two were filled by Blackstudents and two by Latino students last fall. Andtwo of the four students were women.

On a campus that some students say is hostileto minorities, diversity is a constant concern.and while the council has not generally dealtwith issues of race, Harvard's students governmentprovides the kind of racially diverse leadershipthat minority groups have long said is lacking oncampus.

The council's success in securing a diverseleadership--done without the benefit of any quota,affirmative action or special recruitment--mayhold lessons for other campus organizations thathave struggled with the problem.

If the council is a model, then it is the hardwork of minority student that leads to diversity.Braswell, like other Black leaders on the council,says their rise in the council has been aboutindividual effort, not race.

"It has nothing at all to do with the councilwanting things to be that way," Braswell says.It's should be totally attributed to thoseindividuals."

This academic year, in fact, has seenminorities and women make important strides ingaining influence on the council. A record numberof Black now participate both in councilleadership and in the body's general assembly.Latino students have also played a major role.

And the council's female representatives, whoheld several meetings last spring because theyfelt their opinions were being ignored in thecouncil, say they too have made strides.

The Executive Board

Last semester, all four of the council'selected posts were filled by minorities: Gabay,the president, and then-Secretary Cynthia D.Johnson '96 are Black, while then-Vice PresidentMelissa Garza '94 and then-Treasurer Rene Reyes'95 are Latino.

Meanwhile, unofficial statistics provided byGregoire show that as of last week, 15 of thecouncil's 79 members are Black. In other words,Black students represent 19 percent of thecouncil.

This means that the percentage of Blacks on thecouncil is more than double the percentage ofBlack enrolled in the college. According to themost recent University statistics available, Blackstudents comprised 7.2 present of the student bodyin the fall of 1992.

And Black students hold a percentage ofleadership positions that far exceeds theproportion of Blacks on the council as a whole.

In fact, Black students hold exactly half thebody's elected executive posts--which includes theoffices of presidents, vice president, secretary,treasurer as well as the various chairs of thebody's committees. That number represents morethan twice the percentage of Blacks on thecouncil.

These number constitute a significant jump fromlast spring, when 25 percent of the electedexecutive post were held by Blacks.

The reasons for this jump have nothing to dowith the removal of racial barriers, say mostcouncil members.

For his part, Gregoire says there is "no realracial bias" on the council.

"In the past, [Blacks] weren't excluded on thecouncil," Gregoire says. "It's a matter of thesystem and how it operates."

Most attribute the dramatic increase to arecord number of Blacks who happen to have beenactive in the council at this point in time.

"It goes back to the people," says Gregoire, aformer co-chair of the now-defunct academicscommittee. "All of us have proven ourselves, allwere committee chairs. Our leadership abilitieshave proven us able to succeed."

Braswell, who chaired the finance committeelast semester, agrees.

"When you get to the four top positions and thecommittee chairs, it doesn't matter much what raceyou are," Braswell says. "It doesn't factor inmuch to the fact that [Gabay] is president."

Latino students are also enjoying a measure ofsuccess on the council after years of being just atiny percentage of the student government'smembers.

Gregorie's figures show that the number ofLatinos on the council is beginning to reflecttheir percentages in the College.

Five of the council's 79 members--or 6.3percent--are Latino, according to Gregoire. Thistotal approaches the proportion of Latinosenrolled in the College--8.4 percent--as of thefall of 1992.

Neither Reyes nor Garza was available forcomment last week.

Women Make Strides

Last spring, some women on the council chargedthat the council had become a boys' club and thatthey were being excluded from many of the body'smost important decisions.

In response, female representatives heldseveral women-only meetings to discuss how to dealwith the problem.

"We talked about how we could get more women onthe council, see that they're elected ofleadership positions, and get them heard indebate," says long-time council member Jennifer W.Grove '94.

"A lot of it was the older women telling theyounger ones that they shouldn't be afraid tospeak up debate," Grove says. "We tried to tellthem they shouldn't let themselves be cut off bythe chair."

But most women now say that the problem thatsparked the movement has subsided.

"Women are being heard more often," Grove says.

And much of the credit for that, she adds, goesto Gabay and the rest of the executive board.

"I would says [Gabay] is more willing to listento all different viewpoints," Grove says. "All thepeople on the executive board have been gettingmore people involved in different projects, andmore of everyone means more women, too."

Braswell was one woman on the council who"honestly didn't think there was a problem" at thetime. But she attributes any change toconsciousness raising within the council.

"All [the meetings] did was to make peopleaware that maybe there was something there, and itmade people think," she says.

When you start talking about bias, an old-boynetwork, they start thinking about it's Braswelladds. "Because you talked about it, you makepeople more aware of it."

Unfavorable Numbers

This fall, Garza was elected vice president ofthe council and became the first woman to holdsuch a high position in five year, Grove says.

Still, only two of the council's 12 elected andappointed executives this semester--treasurerBraswell and re-evaluation committee chairGarza--are women.

Women are similarly underrepresented in thecouncil as a whole. About 33 percent of councilmembers were, as of last week, women, whileapproximately 41.1 percent of theHarvard-Radcliffe student body was female as offall 1992.

But these numbers do not seem to disturb womencouncil members interviewed by The Crimson. "I cansee how many people think it's problem," Braswellsays. "But women's issues don't really come up oncouncil."

"I want people to run for the U.C. who want torun for the U.C.," Braswell adds. "It would be aproblem if men were encouraged or women werediscouraged, but I don't think that's true.,"

Gregoire says he regards the disproportionatelylow number of female council members as almostself-perpetuating.

"As it stand now, there more men on thecouncil, who tend to tell their male friends atthe beginning of the year,' Gregoire says. "That'sone thing the needs to be worked on."

Braswell agrees with this argument, adding thatit also can be applied to the executive board.

"The people in control last year were white andmen, so the people they encouraged may have beenmen.." Braswell says. "With the gender dynamicslast year, it's because women weren't the closestfriends with the guys in power."

But Grove says she regards the gender imbalancemore as a reflection of a lack of interest in thecouncil among Harvard women.

"The problem in general is that more men run,and when they're here, they tend to be moreactive," Grove says. "I just think men are moreinterested in students government, at least atHarvard.

Grove notes that a higher percentage of thefemales candidates who run for the council getelected than their male counterparts. Grove saysthis is evidence that women are underrepresentedon the council not because of bias among votersbecause of personal choice.

What Is to Be Done?

Gregoire, the council secretary, says thecouncil is planning ways to recruit more womenrepresentatives.

"The secretary is supposed to produce apamphlet with the council's budget, etc. to bedistributed before elections," Gregoire says. "Ithasn't been practiced in some time, and I'm goingto reinstate that."

He says a new election committee within thecouncil will examine the issue further.

Gregoire says he hopes better publicity overallwill correct the imbalance.

"Hopefully it will, but it won't necessarily doit," Gregoire says. "A lot of women here aren'treally too keen on the U.C. or politics. We canmake better strides and publicity and that's whatwe can do to change this trend."Crimson File Photo