Students emphasized the importance of representing oneself, not just one’s ethnic group, in an panel discussion entitled “Ousiders Allowed” on Thursday night. In particular, the discussion focused on the ways in which “outsiders”—or students that are of different racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds—are perceived when they participate in other on-campus cultural organizations.
The six-member panel consisted of a diverse group of Harvard students who were all members of different social and cultural organizations, and was moderated by Assistant Dean of Student Life Emelyn A. dela Peña.
In defining the meaning of the word outsider, panelists stressed that outsiders were not merely people who did not fit the majority religious, ethnic, or racial makeup of a student group.
Rather, they said that the term outsider can refer to students of the same background who simply do not feel comfortable or identify in groups in which they share cultural commonality. Basing the definitions of outsiders on physical and cultural characteristics undermines the individual diversities of students within these groups, they said.
“Within the Harvard Islamic Society there are individual pockets of ethnicities and sects of Islam that have varying types of practices and understandings about what it means to be Muslim,” said the organization’s president, panelist Rashid M. Yasin ’12, offering an example of how diversity exists even within religiously, ethnically, and racially homogenous student groups.
Ravi N. Mulani ’12 and Ge “Andy” Zhang ’13 held the distinction of being the only two panelists representing student groups in which they were ethnic or racial minorities.
But both students said that despite their ethnicity and race, they did not feel like “outsiders” within their organizations.
As the only Asian board member of the Black Men’s Forum, Zhang is not the first or only non-black member of the organization. In detailing how he joined BMF, Zhang said, “I really missed having cultural discussions,” of his earlier time as a member of the Asian American Association.
“One thing that drew me to BMF was the discussions they had about what it meant to be black or a minority at Harvard.”
For Mulani, his involvement with the Asian American Brotherhood extended from his search to find people with whom he felt most connected—despite the fact that he is the sole South Asian member.
“I’ve been in other organizations where I was ethnically a fit, but not one socially,” he said.
Beyond the discussion on outsiders, panelists spoke about the need for students to join organizations whose people, core values, and overarching purpose they most related with as well.
“I think it’s important for underclassmen to try different things and keep an open mind and people within social groups should be open to accepting new types of people,” said Zhang.
—Staff writer Candance B. Samuel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.