About seventy students and staff gathered in front of the Science Center yesterday afternoon for a “Speak Out for an Anti-Sexist Harvard” rally, scheduled to coincide with the emergency meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) where professors debated the controversy surrounding University President Lawrence H. Summers.
Using Summers’ remarks on gender as a jumping-off point, the ten speakers at yesterday’s rally addressed a number of grievances, from the lack of a Women’s Center at Harvard to divestment from PetroChina.
The event was organized by the Coalition for an Anti-Sexist Harvard, a group formed last week for the express purpose of creating a public response to the recent controversy and explosion of Faculty discontent with Summers.
The Coalition draws from a number of other feminist, activist, and academic groups on campus, including the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA), the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS), the Socialist Alternative, and the Harvard College Journal of Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality.
And despite the numbing, below-freezing temperatures, a bevy of reporters and television crews from national media outlets gathered to watch their display.
The ten speakers delivered a succession of short speeches, each of which demanded a specific change from the University. The demands ranged from the “democratization” of the Harvard Corporation to the diminishment of final clubs to the immediate resignation of Summers.
In addition, they asked for childcare and more benefits for Harvard workers, male or female.
“We’re embarrassed to have Larry Summers represent this university,” said Amee Chew ‘04, in the opening remarks of the rally. She was interrupted by a chorus of “That’s right!”
Chew also decried the “institutional sexism, which Summers has ignored and perpetuated.”
Summers’ much-maligned remarks, however, were only the beginning in a discussion of an array of other concerns.
Stephanie M. Skier ’05, a Resource Center Coordinator for the BGLTSA, made a speech demanding an increase in faculty, courses, and general autonomy for the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Committee.
Skier, who is also a Crimson editor, said after her speech that while these issues were brought to the spotlight recently, she felt that these problems have long existed at Harvard.
“All these issues we have been active on for years,” Skier said.
Marcel A. Q.. LaFlamme ’05, one of the primary organizers of the event, said that he wanted Summers to resign, but that regardless of the recent controversy, he felt Summers was obliged to address more women’s and minority issues on campus.
“Whether or not Summers steps down, these are demands that must be implemented to truly achieve an anti-sexist Harvard,” said LaFlamme. “Summers’ comments are reprehensible, but for our group, they are just the tip of the iceberg.”
“If the faculty wants to register a vote of ‘no confidence,’ we’re with them, in solidarity with them,” he added.
Julia M. Lewandoski ’06, echoed that sentiment.
“Being a feminist activist, you usually run up against a lot of apathy and opposition,” she said. “We’d love for this event to be a catalyst for these issues coming out and people coming together.”
In a symbolic gesture, the speakers and audience members, many of whom carried neon picket signs, stuffed “no confidence” ballots into a mock ballot box.
When the speakers finished, the participants, still shouting for Summers’ resignation, trooped to Lowell Lecture Hall, where faculty members were still filing in.
Representatives of “Students for Larry” also turned out, distributing information to the press and displaying a lone neon green sign supporting Summers.
“We strongly believe that academic freedom should be preserved,” said Matthew P. Downer ‘07, one of the group’s founders. “We support scientific inquiry whether or not it’s politically correct.”
The speeches were interrupted intermittently by cheering and chanting from the crowd.
Some students in the crowd were optimistic that the large amount of attention given to Summers’ comments will spur change.
“Hopefully this embarrassment will motivate the University to do something,” said Maureen D. Connolly ’06, a member of the Coalition.