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A Common Burden


By Esme C. Murphy

ON November 20, Lydia P. Jackson '82, President of the Black Students Association (BSA) received a death threat.

On November 14, Jackson received a rape threat.

A week earlier the BSA office was broken into, the calendar defaced with slogans "ten days to kill" and "KKK unite."

In the wake of these incidents, many Third World students are anticipating a calculated violent attack on minority students in the near future. At Third World organizational meetings, members trained in self defense techniques are teaching fellow students how to use ordinary objects such as keys and jewelry to defend themselves. "Minority students are absolutely terrified," Jane Bock '81, president of the Asian American Association (AAA) said recently, adding, minorities are waiting for other incidents to happen."

Yet many white students feel the minorities are overreacting, tossing off these threats as the works of deranged individuals that certainly do not represent the attitudes of the University community. Leading administrators echo this belief. Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, has labeled the incidents as "isolated"; other administrators, including President Horner, Dean Fox and Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the university, have denounced the threats as aberrations from the atmosphere they and other administrators seek to create for Third World students.

While one of the incidents, the death threat against Jackson, was made by a lone individual--Bernadette Chavez was arrested minutes after she placed the threatening note, in which she identified herself, on a University Police car--the other threats are still being investigated.

Yet by viewing these incidents as isolated pranks the University community is failing to recognize the fears and horror the incidents have caused in the Third World Community. The community response also reflects a lack of awareness of recent national events that have triggered similar safety fears in Black communities across the country.

Minority students are quick to point out that the events at Harvard must be viewed within a national context which, in the past few months, has included cross burnings at Williams and Purdue, threats similar to the Harvard ones at Wesleyan and Cornell and the recent acquittal of six Ku Klux Klansmen in Greensboro, N.C.

According to studies by the New York Times and other publications, the fears of Harvard's minorities are shared by Blacks nationwide.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, said that many Blacks believe that the recent murders of Black children in Atlanta, the rash of incidents on college campuses, and the Greensboro acquittals are part of a "nationwide conspiracy" against blacks. This sentiment, Jackson says, coupled with the election of Ronald Reagan, has resulted in "hysteria" in some Black communities.

While many minority students are skeptical of an actual conspiracy, most feel that the recent events reflect a growing conservative backlash against the advances made by Blacks in the 1960's. At a rally held before the Yale game to protest the recent incidents, Lisa E. Davis '81 called on the assembled protesters and the horde of University administrators, including President Horner, and Deans Epps and Fox, to consider the threats in light of the recent national incidents.

Davis and the other speakers also said that the University response to the threats must be set against the University's failure to divest of its South African stocks, the unnecesarily lengthy Committee reviewing process examining the need for a Third World Center and the recent Klitgaard report, all of which are viewed as insults to the Third World community. With these issues in mind, Third World students labeled the University's recently avowed commitment to a new agressive recruiting policy of minorities for junior faculty posts as merely a public relations effort.

While the divestiture issue and what many student leaders have charged as the University's insensitivity to their needs for a Third World Center can be viewed as the epitome of Harvard's bureaucratic and institutional lack of concern, the recent threats and the Klitgaard report cut far deeper. The report calls into question the correlation of minority students' high test scores with actual academic performance and questions Harvard's affirmative action policy, and appears to have dealt a severe psychological blow to minority students on campus.

Third World leaders have repeatedly called on Bok to denounce the report, and his refusal to do so has increased the perception among Third World students that the report is reflective of a University-wide view of minority students' academic inferiority--a view last spring's exhaustive Race Relations Committee report indicated is widespread. Third World leaders consider Bok's statement that he "was truly sorry about any hurt that has resulted from this unhappy episode" and "continues firmly to support" affirmative action as "inadequate", according to Jane Bock. Jackson, too, is dissatisfied with Bock's response: "No matter how sorry he is, the damage is done, and the lives of minorities have been dramatically affected. He (Bok) can't sweep it under the rug."

THE University's need to assuage the fears of the Third World community by denouncing the report is clear. The action on divestiture, a Third World Center, and increasing the number of minority Faculty members would also help rid students of any doubts about Harvard's opposition to racism at a time when minority fears are at a fever pitch.

But the burden of supporting minority students must also be shared by white students. Just as it seems a tired battle-cry to call on the university to sell South Africa-related investments, it might sound redundant to some to call on white students to understand Black students' concerns. Yet in the aftermath of the Klitgaard report and the recent threats, never has a climate of understanding been more necessary. Perhaps White students who feel that minority students are overreacting, might take a cue from the efforts in the past few weeks of Jane Bock and Lydia Jackson who have worked under the most intense of personal and political pressures to promote a climate of awareness and tolerance within the University. Bock's appeals to the producer s of a show at the Hasty Pudding Theater to change a number that stereotyped an Asian American character resulted not only in the number being cut, but also in the establishment of a series of forum s between the theatricals and Third World groups to help prevent future stereotypes.

While the rhetoric of many Third World leaders reflects only the depth of their anger and bitterness, Jackson's public statements--in spite of the threats she has received--are tempered with a broader concern: that the entire University community understand that for minority students, the recent events represent a threat to their very right to attend the University. Yet in a vacuum of administration inaction and a lack of concern from the rest of the student body, these types of efforts can only have an isolated and limited effect.

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