Black Students at Harvard: The Rosovsky Report

(The following are excerpts from the text of the report of the Rosovsky Committee on African and Afro-American Studies, a Faculty committee of nine members appointed last April by Dean Ford, and chaired by Henry Rosovsky, professor of Economics. The report is virtually complete with the exception of the section on African studies.)

The "quality of black student life at Harvard" is obviously difficult to define and assess. It would be presumptuous of any committee, even one including black students or one which has listened carefully to the testimony of many black students, to declare what the "quality" of that life actually is. However, it is at least possible to determine something of the frustrations, and the hopes, experienced and expressed by black students, and, on the basis of such information, recommend certain specific courses of action which should be taken by various elements of the University in order to make the Harvard experience a more satisfactory one for the black student.

Before entering on our findings and recommendations it might be well to stress our belief that the attitudes of black students with respect to the University are by no means wholly dissimilar from those of other students. Black students feel alienated from, even neglected within, Harvard; but so, as we know, do many whites. Black students seek and expect "relevance" from their Harvard education, but obviously they are not alone, at this time, in voicing such an expectation. However, the black experience is not simply a mode of the general student experience; it is different, and not merely in degree of intensity, from that of Harvard's white students.

The similarities emerge clearly and immediately from a listing of the four areas with which black students showed the greatest concern:

(1) course offerings and other educational opportunities at Harvard;


(2) the forms and quality of undergraduate social and cultural life;

(3) the relationship between undergraduates and graduate students, and between students and the Faculty and Administration;

(4) the University's relationship to the community.

Each of these four areas has been the subject of concern and discourse within the student body generally. But, equally clearly, the dissatisfaction of black students, with respect to each area, has a special, even unique character of its own.

Although each of these subjects can be discussed separately and in its turn, and although this report does so for reasons of clarity, and emphasis, it must be stressed that they are interrelated. Clearly they are related in the minds of the affected black students, but they are substantively related as well. These interrelationships are particularly evident in those portions of this report that recommend specific action. Each recommendation will, when implemented, have an effect in more than one area of concern. Indeed, even in those cases where no specific recommendation can be offered, an awareness of the range and implications of the problems will help to define the nature of the action to be taken in other areas.

The Curriculum

The seamlessness of the problem is especially clear with respect to the Harvard curriculum. The absence of course offerings in many areas of Afro-American culture is emphatically a matter of more than academic or pedagogical concern to black students. Indeed, it seems likely that the absence of such offerings is the single most potent source of the black students' discontent at Harvard. The lack of such courses can strike the black students as a negative judgment by Harvard University on the importance of these areas of knowledge and research, and, by inference, on the importance of the black people themselves.

More pointedly, there is the problem faced by the black students, who, coming to Harvard, may feel more or less consciously something of a dislocation from the black community. Many students who addressed the committee expressed the need to legitimize, inwardly as well as publicly, their presence at Harvard while other blacks remain in the ghetto, confronting its problems, bearing its burdens. Herein lies one of the major sources of the demand for courses "relevant" to the black experience.

What the black student wants is an opportunity to study the black experience and to employ the intellectual resources of Harvard in seeking solutions to the problems of the black community--so that he will be better prepared to assist the community in solving these problems. Such educational opportunities at Harvard would help the black student to justify his separation from the larger black community--and would attest that the separation was by no means radical or permanent.

The augmentation of Harvard's course offerings and the development of a new program in Afro-American studies (see Section II), are viewed by the black students as the essential means of ameliorating the situation. However, the full development of such resources will take time, and meanwhile there are specific problems for which immediate solutions seem available.