The discussion, entitled “Beyond Mascots: Race and Responsibility at Harvard College” and held in the Kirkland House Junior Common Room, was attended by about 60 students and faculty members.
The event included a PowerPoint presentation featuring types of imagery that event organizers said was offensive and harmful to Native Americans and other cultural groups.
The images ranged from the cover of the Nov. 28 issue of The Dartmouth Review, which depicted a Native American with a scalp in his hand, along with the headline “The Natives are Getting Restless!” to a 1936 depiction of Adolf Hitler as a Native American.
Jonathan Lehman ’08, a Crimson sports editor, whose recent column in this newspaper was criticized as insensitive, apologized “to everyone here who was hurt by the things I wrote.”
The article, which dealt with the political correctness of Native American sports mascots, concluded with the line, “I think the Crimson would’ve slaughtered the Indians,” in reference to the possibility of a game between the Arkansas State Indians and the Harvard Crimson.
“I think the phrase ‘slaughter the Indians’ is terrible” he said. He added that the word “slaughtered” is commonly used in sports writing, but that it can be hurtful in some contexts.
In the column, he also questioned whether the consent of animals should be sought before using them as mascots, in the same way that Native American consent is being solicited.
At last night’s discussion, he said that he did not think that “Native Americans are the same as animals.”
“That was a rhetorical device,” Lehman said, noting that his columns often assume a satirical tone.
Kelsey T. Leonard ’10 said she was hurt and offended by Lehman’s use of the phrase “slaughter the Indians.”
“The image that went into my head, was me, my baby cousin, and my family lying dead in a pool of blood,” she said.
A number of Crimson editors, including President William C. Marra ’07, attended.
“We know that a lot of people were upset by the sports column, and I’m thankful we had the opportunity today to better understand the source of their frustration and begin a productive dialogue with [Native Americans at Harvard College],” Marra wrote in an e-mail.
The moderator of the event, Dennis K. Norman, who is a the faculty chair for the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP) and an associate professor of psychology, said he was moved by Lehman’s apology.
“I really appreciated Jonathan’s comments and apology. It was heartfelt,” he said.
Still, both Norman and Carmen D. Lopez, the executive director of HUNAP, stressed that the event was merely the beginning of what they hoped would be an ongoing dialogue about Native American issues on campus.
“We’re only scratching the surface. It’s not just about sensitivities. There are deeper issues that need to be explored,” Lopez said.
The president of Native Americans at Harvard College (NAHC), April D. Youpee-Roll ’08, also emphasized that it was the start of a discussion.
“I’m happy with the turnout. I’m happy at how many people here were representing The Crimson,” Youpee-Roll said.
The event was co-sponsored by NAHC, HUNAP, and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.