To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
Black students at Harvard have demanded better pay for black painters, more employment for black workers, wider opportunities for black contractors. I think that these are right and just demands, and I hope Harvard meets them.
But I think a much larger situation exists of which these are only symptoms. While the student demands and the negotiations and the threats of discipline are holding the stage, this larger situation may happen almost unawares, with the faculty knowing nothing about it, and then it will be too late to repair, if isn't too late already.
The black students at Harvard are an indissoluble part of the black community. They would not have it otherwise even if they could. They didn't come to Harvard to become part of the white world, but in the hope of becoming a more significant part of the black world. When that black world has achieved its proper place and dignity, perhaps they'll be able to relax and not let it make so much difference any more. But for that to happen. it won't be just they who will change. We will have to change perhaps even more.
I don't think Harvard quite realized, or realizes now, that in taking black students and black faculty members, it took a stake in the black community. That may not be what it intended or wants to do: but it can't do the one without the other.
I have black students in my course. I don't think they are working at it. But that isn't because they are copping out. Still less is it that they lack talent. It's that they are too busy working on their things rather than our things.
So I don't think the big problem has much to do with confrontations and disciplinary responses. It seems to me possible that a fraction-a third, perhaps even a half-of our black students have been working on things other than their courses. Examinations are about to begin. Will they pass them? Will they even take them? And what if they don't?
I said these things to a black minister from Roxbury. He just smiled and said, "Don't worry. They're not copping out. They'll get along. Harvard is probably not the right place for them. They'll find the right place one of these days."
About two years ago a black man surprised me by saying, "Civil rights isn't a black problem. It's a white problem. We know our rights: it's you who don't."
That's pretty much the way it is with educating black students right now. They know their needs and are determined to find solutions. If they now walk away from us, it will be we who have failed. I am not sure we have the time or the capacity to hold them; but it would be good to try.