Noah Oppenheim's scathing criticism of the Crimson Key Society ("My Crimson Key Problem and Ours," Sept. 17) seems both unwarranted and unfair, considering that the Key has just finished an exhausting week of welcoming first-years and parents, working long and unpaid hours to organize events where first-years can have fun and meet one another. If this doesn't fit Oppenheim's definition of a "service organization," I'm not sure what does.
His major complaint seems to be that the Key is too attractive for his tastes. My apologies. After dedicating hours of my time to selecting members in as fair and objective a process as possible, a process in which a person's cheekbones and social status play absolutely no role, I am stunned that Oppenheim would imply that my fellow board members and I choose tour guides on the basis of "conventional standards of physical attractiveness" or affiliation with some particular social group.
Perhaps if he looked more closely, he would discover that the diversity on Key extends not only to ethnicity, but also to social groups and personality types. The Crimson Key Society is a group of bright, articulate students who have earned their place through their enthusiasm about Harvard, their friendliness and approachability and their ability to give an exceptional tour.
Virginia Grace James '00
Sept. 18, 1999
The writer is president of the Crimson Key Society.
Key Criticism Justified, Says Former Member
During my two years as a Crimson Key member, I often noticed the same problems and felt the same feelings Oppenheim notes in his column.
While Oppenheim's generalizations may be oversimplifications, his facts are substantially accurate. Probably 80 to 85 percent of Key members were legacies, athletes, final club members--or, in the case of women, regular club "guests." The remaining members felt the social marginalization inherent during Key functions and, necessarily, when a Key event adjourned to the Fox or the Fly, as it so often did.
There would be nothing inherently wrong with the Key's lack of diversity if it were not the only University-sanctioned student tour group. But, as Oppenheim observes, there are plenty of good storytellers in the student body who don't wear khakis, don't enjoy the mindless drinking rituals, and won't reduce themselves to mindless, sycophantic club members. I saw personally how the Key's comp systematically excludes people outside the elitist, insular circle in which so many members travel.
I saw the pettiness and prejudice rampant in each annual new member selection meeting. I remember being pressured to give good evaluations to the sister of one Key executive and the best friend of another. Finally, I recall the pillorying of fellow members who were talented yet somehow different and, therefore, weird.
I joined the Crimson Key Society so I could give campus tours, and I stayed despite discovering its shallowness. Unless the Key chooses to reach out to this larger community, it should not remain the University's exclusive student tour group. Mend it or end it.
Christopher R. McFadden '97
Chicago, Ill., Sept. 20, 1999
The writer was an executive editor of The Crimson in 1996.