The Third World Center: In Perspective

The development of a wide variety of student activities and services for Third World groups has spurred accusations that Third World students are promoting separatism. Such charges represent an inability to recognize the historical basis and concrete need for these programs demonstrated thoughout the years during which a significant number of Third World students have attended Harvard and Radcliffe College. Through our programs and Third World studies we have been able to promote a better understanding of our culture and history--consolidating our own strength, while adding to the diversity which Harvard claims to nurture.

The broad-based activites of Third World groups require greater funding, organizational and physical capacities. Inadequate office space and recognition of the need for a better support structure paralleled the growing sentiment for a Third World Center. However, Third World students have recognized the need for a Center, since 1973, when the United Committee of Third World Organizations (UCTWO), a coalition of representatives from each of the major Third World organizations, drew up the first proposal for a Third World Center. The present proposal is only the culmination of its history in the development of Third World student unity and activities.

That history can be best understood in terms of the activities pursued by Third World groups regarding affirmative action, Third World studies, issues involving the larger Third World community, such as the anti apartheid movement and the development of independent Third World educational and social programs.

Affirmative Action

Third World people were a rare sight at Harvard until the activism of the 1960s forced the implementation of affirmative action programs on campuses throughout the nation. Therefore, a primary focus of Third World organizing has been first to increase the number of Third World people attending the college.


In the fall of 1968, Black students at Harvard demanded an increase in the number of Black students admitted, and the right to recruit in Third World communities in hopes of increasing the working class Third World population, a group hitherto ignored.

In 1970 eight Puerto Rican students (the entire Puerto Rican population at Harvard at that time) walked into the Dean of Admissions Office and successfully demanded the acceptance of more Puerto Rican students along with a corresponding student recruitment program. In 1973 the Chicano recruitment program was established, also as a result of student pressure. However, while Third World student enrollment has generally increased, from less than 5 per cent to 20 per cent of the class of 1984, the population of Native Americans remains less than 20.

One of the early actions taken by Third World students collectively was in the area of affirmative action with respect to Asian Americans. Asians were not allowed to benefit from Harvard's affirmative action programs until Third World students forced their recognition as a minority group. The support of other Third World groups in this effort represented a consolidation of unity and the surmounting of the age-old tactic of "divide and conquer," while highlighting the need for a greater centralization of Third World activities.

In 1974, the UCTWO was constituted as an official organization called the Organization for the Solidarity of Third World Students (OSTWS). OSTWS focused their efforts on the demand for greater Third World student input and control in the admissions process. The result was the first freshperson Minority Orientation Program in the fall of 1975. Minority orientation has proven to be the mainstay of programmatic activity which has been developed by Third World students from 1975 to the present.

The other component of admissions work has been the Minority admissions and recruitment program carried out by each organization. Each group sends recruiters to Third World communities nationwide and undertakes other support and lobbying activities which has resulted in the growth of Third World enrollment. While these programs have grown under the separate jurisdiction of each Third World organization, they have always worked together throughout the years in presenting a united front in developing annual budgets, maintaining and expanding the Minority Admissions and Recruitment program in the face of cutbacks, and in working together on orientation and other activities. Admissions work has served as an important inter-cultural forum, cultivating mutual respect and strong working relationships between the respective Third World groups.

Third World Studies

Along with the struggles in the area of affirmative action, the mobilization for Third World studies since the 1960s has fostered greater Third World unity. Students have supported Afro-American Studies since 1969 when Black students led a broadly-based movement of students and sympathetic faculty to establish the Afro-American Studies Department (AASD).

Third World groups have been widely supportive in the work for Afro-American studies as well as Latin and Asian American studies. OSTWS and the Task Force on Affirmative Action (TFAA) were important components in the movement to maintain and expand the AASD and the W.E.B. DuBois Institute, which was originally designed to be the graduate research arm of the AASD. The TFAA, a coalition of groups, also supported the movement for women's studies, and attempted to strengthen the ability of the separate Third World organizations to develop Third World Studies for all the groups.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement

The broader framework for the activities of Third World students on campus is also seen in the anti-apartheid movement. Between 1977 and 1979 Third World organizations assumed the leadership of several coalitions working to force Harvard to divest of its corporate holdings in Southern Africa.

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