Francisco J. Perez ’06 doesn’t like statistics. As a Social Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality concentrator, math is not exactly his chosen field. But his dislike has nothing to do with math.
“I volunteer at Suffolk Correctional Center, and it strikes me every time that—well, I look at my demographic, and as a young black/Latino male, I have more chance of being there than being here [at Harvard],” he says.
As the child of Dominican immigrants, raised in what he describes as the ghetto of New York City, Perez managed to beat odds and become a top student at Stuyvesant High School, a magnet school known for its academic rigor.
At Harvard, he has dedicated himself to improving those odds for others, joining Fuerza Latina and the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program (UMRP), where he advocated for increased diversity in admissions.
But he says admissions officers resisted his efforts. “I’m definitely much more cynical after my experience working with them,” he says, shaking his head. “They won’t change their definition of success from a very upper-middle class standard.”
His frustrations with Harvard began with his freshman housing assignment. On his application, he had asked fervently for at least one black or Latino roommate. Instead, he got three white Republicans.
His roommate, Yves-Georges A. Joseph II ’06, praises “Cisco,” as Perez is known, for converting his complaints with Harvard into concrete advocacy. “He turns his words into actions,” Joseph writes in an e-mail, describing the many weekends Perez has devoted to community organizing.
“I feel like I have to take a really oppositional stance to this place,” Perez says. “I have to, for my own soul. But I’m definitely grateful for the experience.”
After all, Harvard is another opportunity for him to give back. “I know why I’m here,” he says, “and that’s what sustains me and motivates me through a lot of the crap that occurs at a place like this. I come from an oppressed place, and I want to learn everything I can here and take it back to benefit my community.”