Breaking Our Silence

“Finally I write because I'm scared of writing, but I'm more scared of not writing.”—Gloria Anzaldúa

Borderlands/La Frontera

EDITORS’ NOTE: The Crimson is not, and has never been, a perfect institution. In the last few years, we have taken a number of steps to become a more welcoming organization for editors of color, but we recognize there is more work to do. We are publishing this piece in the interests of continuing an internal dialogue about how to address important questions of diversity and inclusion.

— Juan V. Esteller ’19, Editorial Chair

— Derek K. Choi ’18, President

Ruben: April 2016. Black Magic, a student-written play, features a plotline about how difficult it is to be an underrepresented minority on The Crimson. I didn’t understand the plotline then. I do now.

February 2017. On a post-election campus, multiple editorial writers are understandably interested in writing about race and identity. A higher-up tells me that we should be careful with the kind of pieces we run, since we don’t want to become “Renegade with better fact-checking.”

Zoe: March 2017. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana fails to make Harvard feel like a home for first-generation college students. Tears feel like they won’t stop falling when that failure seeps into a staff editorial meeting where I’m fighting to explain the pain to other non-first generation Crimson editors. It is one of many times my marginalization has been up for debate in this building.

R: April 2017. We write a column about being chastised for speaking Spanish, but we hide that it happened at The Crimson. At a Crimson open house this fall, two freshmen come up to me and tell me that they read, and loved, that column. I thank them. I don’t tell them that we had to fight to get it published.

Z: November 2017. Deliberations mean invisibility. Sitting in a room filled with people who look nothing like me. My voice is lost in a process of decisions rife with favoritism, where the future of The Crimson remains in its ways of the past. I have to continuously remind myself why I decided to comp this organization in the first place.

R+Z: For many editors of color, The Crimson can be an incredibly toxic environment. Writers miss class, push off assignments, and ignore their mental health under a culture that leaves little room for self-care. Black and Latina women are constantly underrepresented on the masthead. Our organization’s issues with race and equity lead far too many talented editors to walk out the door of 14 Plympton St. indefinitely.

Aaron H. Aceves ’15, a former Associate Arts Editor, recounted subtle encounters with racism. “When I was an editor for the Arts board I was one of three people of color, and what I experienced with white staffers was racial obliviousness, an ‘I know every word of this A$AP Rocky song so I can say the n-word’ type of racism.’”

His experiences led to the sense of isolation that many editors experience, especially when they are among the only black or Latinx members of their board. “The funny thing though was that I’d look to the other people of color, but they’d just look away because they were closer to the majority upper-middle class, white higher ups. I felt like if I ever addressed these thoughts I’d be more ostracized than I already was.”

Nian Hu ’18, a former Associate Editorial Editor, recounted a moment during her tenure as an Editorial Board’s comp director where a piece criticizing the paper, penned by a black female comper, led to a misunderstanding that caused some in The Crimson’s leadership to suggest cutting her. Had the situation not been clarified, Hu felt that the comper might have been cut if she, the comper, and other editors of color hadn’t suggested otherwise.

Ifeoluwa T. Obayan ’19, an Editorial Comp Director, was cleaning up after an Editorial social in the building when another board entered for an event. They were all men, and none were black, yet they began blasting loud rap music that prominently featured the n-word.

“I immediately felt uncomfortable and gathered my things to leave as quickly as I could,” Obayan said, noting that it reminded her of the dynamic during her Editorial and News comps. “I was showing up to meetings and writing stories, but I still felt invisible, like no one cared to know my name.”

For the sake of the organization, we treat these problems like secrets and speak of them only in whispers. For the future editors of color, for the work we’ve personally done to mentor those who come from backgrounds like ours, for the hope we hold. We are selective with what we indulge, because we want to prepare minority editors while also reminding them that their experience can be fruitful. We rope in our tongues because, if we hope to see a diverse group of leaders at The Crimson someday, we need editors of color to stick around.

We’ve been complacent in upholding this troubling silence. We’ve written, critically, about the spaces we struggle to fit into and the borderlands we’ve sought to inhabit—the classroom, pre-professional programs, Harvard as a whole. We haven’t touched our own institution until now. To enact change, we must chronicle, candidly, what it means to be an underrepresented minority at The Crimson.

If we do not break our silence, we run the risk of perpetrating giving racial diversity nothing but lip value, allowing the organization’s leadership—ourselves included—to abdicate themselves of blame. Attendance at the organization’s Diversity and Inclusivity Committee meetings coincidentally rises in the weeks immediately preceding leadership elections, the seemingly superficial interest only serving to heighten the fear that the committee’s hope for true change in the building will never come to fruition. We must stop responding to criticisms of our issues with race by pointing to authors of color, without asking why they stop writing for us or why they aren’t officially elected members of The Crimson. If the organization continues to nudge those who feel uncomfortable or unwelcome into silence, it won’t be held accountable.

We’re critical of institutions because we love them. If we return to The Crimson, and if our prose finds life on these pages again in the future, it’ll be because we’re convinced that it can be an organization any Harvard student feels they can be a part of. To accomplish that, The Crimson needs us more than we need it. But if it continues to justify silence and complicity as a way of blindly protecting its reputation, desperately needed change will not come.

Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House. Their column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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