Students of Color Join To Further Conversation on Campus Race Relations

Continuing recent campus discussion about race, undergraduate leaders from both the black and Latino communities have come together for a conversation about race relations and institutional support for students of color at Harvard.

Thursday evening, students of color held a town hall meeting in Pforzheimer House. According to Edward Escalon ’14, who attended the meeting, students at the town hall discussed topics including race relations in the Houses, funding and institutional support for student organizations and cultural groups, and the impact of the freshman orientation program “Community Conversations.”

It was good to see students from the Latino and black communities, as well students of Asian descent, “come together” and discuss the issues, Escalon said in an interview Thursday evening following the town hall, which was not open to the press.

The discussion in Pforzheimer comes several weeks after a social media campaign and theater production highlighting black students’ experiences on campus, called “I, Too, Am Harvard,” caught national attention, and student members of the Latino community held a town hall discussion event. At the town hall, held March 6, some students expressed frustration with what they characterized as a lack of institutional support for Latino students at Harvard.

Herbert B. Castillo ’14, one of the organizers for the Latino town hall meeting earlier this month, said that immediately following that meeting, Latino student leaders formed a task force open to all students that were in attendance at the town hall.

According to Sarah F. Cole ’16, a similar discussion grew independently within the black community. Just weeks after a Harvard Black Students Association event that drew almost 200 attendees, black student leaders on campus gathered on Feb. 16 to discuss various problems facing the black community. Members of the black community continued to meet weekly on these issues.

“We were advocating for the same demand,” Castillo said. “We had not the same but very, very similar experiences.” Escalon similarly said that “we saw that our struggles were similar to the struggles of black students” on campus.

According to Castillo, the Latino and black student leaders ultimately decided to combine their efforts and hold Thursday’s town hall meeting, open to all racial and cultural minorities, for discussion on the issues of faculty and staff diversity, programming and policy, and resources at Harvard.

“It was empowering to hear a lot of the stories regarding these three categories,” Castillo said. “I’m really excited about the prospect of moving forward and turning these conversations into concrete solutions in the three categories.”

“Everyone is incredibly excited by this opportunity to come together as a community and show the power of our united voice,” Cole wrote in an email. “We look forward to what lies ahead."

Escalon, for his part, suggested that administrators should respond to the discussion about Harvard’s support for students of color. A number of students have argued that University funding is not enough to sufficiently support student cultural groups, and others have called for the creation of a Latino studies program, for example.

“It’s time for the administration to listen to its students,” Escalon said. “It’s time for the University to listen and to take action.”

Neurology professor S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, joined the group at the end of the meeting to show his support for the conversation.

“That’s why I’m here tonight with the students,” Counter said. “To say, ‘I support you and your aspirations and your initiatives, and please, count on not only the Foundation’s support, but my personal support of your interests.’”

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at steven.lee@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.

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