JANSON WU, a pre-law tutor in Mather House, speaks at a discussion on tolerance last night.
Amid a running debate on homophobia at Harvard, Mather House tutors sponsored an open dinner meeting last night aimed at sending “a message of welcoming” to sexual minorities on campus.
Billed as a discussion on “The Role of Free Speech and Hate Speech on College Campuses,” the meeting was the latest response to a letter to the editor published in The Crimson last Monday that has been criticized as homophobic.
In his letter, Gladden J. Pappin ’04 argued that the University should discipline students for certain sexual behaviors and called homosexuality “not merely immoral but perverted and unnatural.”
Roughly 25 students attended the discussion, which organizers said put human faces on a debate which had raged over the Mather House open e-mail list over the last week.
“It’s helpful to contextualize the arguments into people,” Mather Tutor Janson Wu told those in attendance. “People live, breathe and feel these experiences every day.”
Others said the meeting filled an important void.
“We tried to make sure that there was a dialogue between the tutors and the students,” Mather Tutor Peter B. Green said. “Unfortunately, there wasn’t that same sentiment on the part of the administration.”
Green said that after speaking with students frustrated by the lack of official response to the Pappin letter, he felt it was time “for a real representative of the University to step in.”
He said the role of the tutors as University representatives should be to foster a community where every student feels welcome.
One of the most vocal of the students in attendance last night was Chanda R.S. Prescod-Weinstein ’03, a member of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance.
Prescod-Weinstein expressed her own experiences with homophobia, calling on the University to publicly affirm its support for sexual minority students.
“The University really does have an obligation to pay attention to intolerance on campus,” Prescod-Weinstein said after the meeting. “If they want us all to have the opportunity to fulfill our intellectual potential then we need to have the psychological freedom to do that.”
Prescod-Weinstein praised Mather tutors for their efforts to create a welcoming community, calling them “a model for the rest of the campus.”
While last night’s debate was relatively uncontentious, differences of opinion did surface.
Some students spoke out against limits on free speech and cautioned that the University should be careful in inserting itself into the debate.
—Staff writer Elizabeth W. Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.