University officials rejected a proposal for a minority student center in Loker Commons yesterday, saying that such a center would contravene Harvard's efforts to encourage diversity and integration.
The proposal by the Minority Students' Alliance (MSA), which was supported by more than 15 student cultural organizations, called for permanent office and conference space for cultural groups, exhibitions and a multicultural library.
"It would be inconsistent with [Harvard's] purpose to set aside space for racial, ethnic and cultural groups," Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III said yesterday.
"Third world or multicultural centers promote racial separation," Epps said, stressing that the University must find ways to promote diversity without segregating the campus.
"We are committed both to diversity and to racial integration," he said. "I think it would be a great shame if we started dividing [Harvard] up, saying, 'This race goes here.' It would diminish the University."
MSA leaders defended their proposal, arguing that a multicultural student center would bring together different ethnic groups, not separate them.
"It's not just the MSA. We're talking about 15 to 20 ethnic and minority groups," said MSA Co-Chair Sheila N. Swaroop '96.
Epps differentiated between the MSA request and a request last month by the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Student Association (BGLSA) for a student center in Loker Commons.
That request was denied. But BGLSA was given office space in the Yard, which MSA already has.
"We are not offering a student center [to the BGISA]," Epps said.
Epps likened the MSA proposal to earlier groups' requests for a minority student center in 1969, 1975 and 1980. He said the 1980 movement spawned Harvard's present policy toward diversity, expressed in a 1981 report by a special committee chaired by Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes.
Epps said the committee's report resulted in the creation of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations