Strategic Offense Misunderstood
TO THE EDITORS
We are writing to address misunderstandings that have arisen in relation to the commentary on Government 1091, Campus media wrested attention from bigotry, institutional privilege and (white) power by creating a diversionary debate about "free speech," and scapegoated dissenting dialogue.
The motivations behind The Crimson's excessive deliberation about sacred forums, interruption, free speech and wasted time are particularly suspect given the fact that we had vacated the classroom by the official 2:07 p.m. beginning of lecture. One wonders what perverse sense of journalistic (ir)responsibility leads The Crimson to fantasize about our exhibitionism and egotism instead of providing serious expose coverage of a senior faculty member's bogus politics. The only serious coverage provided was false; none of us have faced any disciplinary actions whatsoever, and we told this to The Crimson when it called us for an interview.
A key element of our protest went insidiously overlooked by media coverage. outside of the classroom, we distributed an educational flyer which outlined our position and the reasons for it--using quotations from Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfied '53 as the appeared in The Crimson. In the flyer, we noted that Mansfield believes that blacks cause grade inflation and that their presence at Harvard is dubious. One might argue that Mansfield's comments about blacks render him unfit to teach, since his biases would prevent him from treating black students fairly or humanely. Mansfield's comments do not offer dialogue with black students or faculty, as many blacks in the government department secretly agree, silent in fear of reprisals. In addition to the 50 or so members of our group, there are those who wished to protest Mansfield--among them faculty members--who feel too silenced by an atmosphere of discursive control to speak out. Is this "free speech?"
The Harvard administration and The Crimson's editorial board have defined free speech by fiat with complete disregard for dialogue. If professorial control means no disagreements, then we do not believe our free speech is protected. Had we been asked to leave, we would have. As Harvard students during shopping period, it was our right to attend classes and comment on them. We did not at any point take over the podium or shout over professorial objections. The form our action took was dictated by t he wishes of Mansfield and Visiting Lecturer George F. Will, who have asked that academic debates be conducted with greater levity. Both have stated that they ought to be able to tell jokes about blacks and gays. It seems hypocritical that these jokesters are upset at being given mock awards and "complimented" for their wonderful politics.
In fact, as soon as we left, Mansfield said to Will, "At least you don't have to teach at a university filled with feminists and quacks," showing that he is more interested in insults than dialogue.
Additionally, Harvey Mansfield feels that gays undermine civilization. In our flyer, we offered the following version of that sentiment: "---- eventually undermine Civilization!" We hope this exercise speaks for itself.
To naturalize the denial of humanity by making irresponsible claims in an intellectual forum, to assert that blacks, Jews, gays or any group of less-powerful people simply "do not belong," is to join forces with a level of intellectual discourse made possible only by the exercise of unchecked power and unreflective cruelty. Speaking out in this context is a form of survival for anyone of conscience, not just "of color".
Some students in the room flinched as they read Mansfield's cruel and vicious remarks about their academic qualifications and right to be at Harvard, then got up and left. Students approached us asking. "Did he really say these things?"
Mansfield want to "stomp out" the Strategic Offense Society for pointing out the racism that he would like to cloak in the form of jokes. We're hurting his image. Although bigotry is omnipresent, blatant forms are unacceptable causes an openly racist person is subject to social condemnation. Why does Mansfield fit in so well here at Harvard? Because he has mastered the paradoxical art of being a bigot while arguing from an institutionally supported "intellectual" position. Henry Louis Gates and A. Leon Higginbotham have noted that The Bell Curve proves that it is not the uneducated racist who is the most dangerous. Mark Fuhrman's racism is easy to spot and "blacklist," but have you looked at your own "white lies" lately? This is what our protest is about. We urge members of the Harvard community to make loud opposition to institutionalized bigotry part of their daily routine in order to create a more harmonious and honest community. Ann Seaton, GSAS Michele Hunter, GSAS Joshua D. Oppenheimer '96-'97 James Clayton '97 Alexis Zubrow '96