The Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA) and Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III collaborated yesterday to sponsor a seminar on race relations aimed at improving the relationship of Square businesses with Harvard minority students.
About 30 representatives from various business in the Square attended the seminar, which was held at BayBank yesterday.
A five member panel spoke to the business about the need for greater sensitivity in dealing with the diverse customer base present in Harvard Square, said Kristin A. Sudholz, executive director of the HSBA.
The seminar was originally planned in November of last year in the aftermath of an incident of alleged racial harassment against Richard A. Cole '95 at Nini's Corner, a Harvard Square newsstand.
Cole, a Mexican-American, accused the store's owner, Philip Nini, of using Spanish phrases sarcastically when evicting him from the store.
After Cole filed charges with the Cambridge Human Rights Commission and the Undergraduate Council called for a boycott of the store, Nini made a public apology.
After several other students approached him with similar complaints against other Square businesses, Epps said he felt a need existed for a dialogue with Square businesses on the subject of "race in the commercial setting."
Sudholz said yesterday that despite an already diverse population, the Square has recently acquired an even greater "international" community due to the increasing diversity of the Harvard student body and an increase in international visitors.
"Businesses today have to think more in an international vein," Sudholz said.
But Sudholz said she does not think that the Square has a race relations problem.
"What happens usually is an honest misunderstanding from ignorance," Sudholz said.
Epps handed out statistics about the diversity of the student population to the business owners and made a five-point list of recommendations for Square businesses.
"I talked to them about when I came to the College back in '58 when there were seven Black students in the grad schools and 15 in the College," Epps said."I contrasted that with the current situationwhere there are 2000 Black students total in theUniversity."
These statistics made strong impressions onsome business owners.
"I knew that Harvard was a leader in [minorityinclusiveness], but when I saw the actual numbers,it was very impressive," said Peter H. Dunn, ownerof Cool Beans, a store in The Garage.
"When you add up the minority Population andthe number of international students and it comesout to about 40%--that 's impressive," Dunnadded.
Among other suggestions, Epps recommended thatbusinesses establish clear procedures fordiscrimination complaints, provide training fortheir employees on intercultural and racerelations and avoid the use of race as grounds forsuspicion.
"I thought the audience was very perceptive,"Epps said. "I plan to call upon the largeretailers to continue the discussion. I want toensure that our students are treated fairly."
Tod Beaty, president of the HSBA, said heagreed on the need to continue the dialogue onrace.
"I hope we can use this initial seminar as ajumping off point for the future," Beaty saidyesterday.
According to Dunn, it is always possible toimprove in the arena of race relations.
"Everybody is more biased then they'll admit tobeing," said Dunn. "Everybody harbors irrationalbiases given to them from parents, neighbors andfriends."
"Everybody has work to do," he added.
On the panel yesterday were Epps, Margot P.Kosberg, executive director of the Cambridge HumanRights Commission, Olympia A. Brescia, director ofInternational Marketing at the Massachusetts ofOffice of Travel and Tourism, Kim Notemy, managerof Asian and Latin American Markets at BayBank,and Sandra Reyes, vice president of InternationalPersonal Banking at BayBank