Diversity Issues Weigh Heavily on Pre-Frosh

Many minority students say West dispute makes them think twice

Black and Latino students visiting campus this weekend for pre-frosh weekend said the controversy surrounding the conflict between University President Lawrence H. Summers and members of the Afro-American studies department has made them question the attractiveness of the College.

Many pre-frosh said this weekend they had been following coverage of the dispute between Summers and Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74 in the national media and said they were unsettled by West’s allegations that Summers “disrespected” and “dishonored” him.

Cliff Emmanuel, a pre-frosh from Queens, N.Y., said Saturday that he was troubled by the reports he had read in the newspapers but that he was looking forward to meeting students and judging for himself the degree of diversity present on Harvard’s campus.

“I think it reflects more the sentiments of one person [Summers] rather than the overall mentality of the school,” Emmanuel said.

Brooks Washington, a pre-frosh from San Francisco, expressed his disappointment over the imminent departures of West and Carswell Professor of Afro-American Studies and Philosophy K. Anthony Appiah.

The strength of Harvard’s Afro-American studies department had been one of the selling points that had first attracted him to Harvard, Washington said.

These concerns echoed those that have been expressed by minority high school students since news of the Summers-West conflict first became public in December, according to Alonzo Sherman ’03, one of the African-American coordinators for the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program (UMRP).

UMRP, which is operated by the admissions office, works through the year to encourage minority students to apply to and come to Harvard. The group telephones accepted minority students and travels across the country to entice minority students to come to Cambridge.

“It definitely has been an issue, even when there were just rumors flying around,” said Sherman, who is also president-elect of the Black Men’s Forum. “This whole controversy is really making students think twice—and that second thought could make students go somewhere else.”

“One thing Harvard really puts forward is its diversity, and we are fairly diverse relative to other schools,” he added. “This is a major blow to that competitive edge.”

Maribel Hernandez ’04, who is the president of RAZA and one of two Mexican-American coordinators for the UMRP, said she fielded similar questions from minority pre-frosh this weekend.

Hernandez said she tried to handle such questions by admitting her concerns with the administration’s position on diversity but pointing out the efforts of Faculty and students to promote a stronger minority community at Harvard.

“Although some people in the administration might not be committed to diversity, the [student] leaders here really care about having more minorities coming into this school,” she said.

Hernandez said the goal of RAZA and other ethnic student groups this weekend was to make minority students feel welcome at Harvard.

Brandon A. Gayle ’03, president of the Black Students’ Association (BSA), expressed similar sentiments.

Gayle said he and other members of BSA attempted to show pre-frosh that the opportunities at Harvard outweigh concerns raised by the current controversy.