Harvard Foundation Talks Affirmative Action

UPDATED: December 5, 2012, at 5:46 a.m.

After a scheduling conflict generated controversy, a discussion forum on affirmative action Tuesday evening drew nearly 50 students—most of whom voiced support of the college admissions policy.

The event, which was hosted by the Harvard Foundation, came under fire from several members of Harvard’s Latino community because it had been slated to take place at the same time as Concilio Latino’s previously scheduled holiday dinner.

In an email circulated over several campus lists, several students urged their peers to sign an online petition to reschedule the discussion event, expressing concern that the scheduling overlap would exclude Latino students from a conversation in which they hold an important stake. The petition garnered 129 signatures before it was closed, and on Monday afternoon, petition organizers sent an email to supporters indicating that the Harvard Foundation had agreed to change the time of the event.

When asked at the event about the scheduling conflict, Loc V. Truong, assistant director of the Harvard Foundation, and Tiffany M. Ramos ’16, an intern at the Harvard Foundation, declined to comment.

Although most students at the event rallied in support of affirmative action, discussion members maintained a respectful tone.

In a discussion of whether affirmative action programs should be based primarily on socioeconomic status, Ramos offered a psychological argument to oppose eliminating race-based affirmative action.

“Children in kindergarten, in third grade perform poorer because of the psychological impact of having to recognize themselves as a certain color in a not-so post-racist society,” Ramos said.

In the final discussion question of the night, attendees debated whether they thought affirmative action reinforces negative stereotypes about minority groups.

One respondent, Merilin Castillo ’16, described affirmative action as “not the ideal solution” because of negative perceptions of the policy. Nevertheless, she said, “it’s better to have a Band-Aid than an open wound.”

Sarah R. Siskind ’14, whose Crimson editorial column arguing against affirmative action earlier this month provoked backlash from some, took part in the discussion.

“Though the perspectives opposing affirmative action were somewhat underrepresented [at the event], I suppose it would be very disproportionate of the Harvard community if more than two had shown up,” Siskin wrote in a statement after the event. “On the whole, I truly enjoyed hearing people’s opinions face-to-face.”

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