Harvard students like to hear themselves talk, and oftentimes they like to read about themselves talking, too. The latter, however, proved false at last week’s explicitly “OFF the record” meeting about the exclusivity of campus social spaces.
The event, organized by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, took place in the Winthrop Junior Common Room, lasted about two hours, and drew around 100 attendees. These 100 came from all corners of campus. Some belonged to final clubs, some to fraternities and sororities, some to other societies and publications on campus. So many different perspectives rarely meet in one place at Harvard, and when they do they rarely discuss the root cause of that infrequency—or what we can do about it.
For that reason, this meeting was nothing if not valuable. Campus organizations suffering from a lack of diversity do occasionally hold in-house conversations about present problems and possible solutions. But, since these discussions take place within the very organizations that could benefit from increased inclusivity, they necessarily do not benefit from as wide a range of viewpoints as they could. (The Crimson certainly falls under this category.) Last week’s larger discussion provided that range, and in doing so it offered each attendee a chance both to hear something new and to be heard by someone new.
Because these conversations are so few and far between, it makes sense that those who spearheaded the meeting discouraged the press from attending—students likely feel less comfortable expressing their views and disclosing their organizational affiliations when they fear that their names might appear in print the next day. That said, just as a more ideal future includes more of these conversations, such a future also entails an environment where students are unafraid of putting themselves forward, and opening themselves and their clubs up to criticism in the interest of improvement and inclusion.
The problems the meeting sought to address permeate structures, social and otherwise, throughout Harvard. The moment freshmen walk through Johnston Gate, they watch groups form before their eyes—groups that depend on where students grew up or went to school, and groups that become closed off, or appear that way, to newly-minted Harvardians even before shopping week ends.
These problems are far from easy to solve. A real solution will take more than action on the part of organizations to change their comp or punch processes. It will take more than action on the part of the University to admit a more diverse pool of students or offer better trainings and discussions. It will take more than action on the part of individuals to sit at different tables in Annenberg, to actively seek out different people as friends and conversation partners, or to join not the groups that seem the easiest, or the most natural, but rather the groups about which they are the most passionate.
Exclusivity on campus has no panacea. Instead, students and administrators alike treat it mostly with platitudes (like some of the above, perhaps). But a broad-based conversation on the topic is at least an effort, and a first step.
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