Several blatantly racist attacks against minorities at Harvard, most of which were committed by as-yet-unidentified assailants, disrupted the University last fall and threatened to heighten racial tension. The president of the Black Students Association (BSA) received rape and death threats. Someone broke into the BSA office and scrawled racist epithets on the organizations's calendar. At Williams College, a cross was burned.
"Ten days to kill," one of the calendar defacements read; and although 300 people protested such outrageously racist gestures at a rally before the Harvard-Yale Game, Lydia P. Jackson '82, president of the BSA, said she perceived the events of the fall as threatening "our right to be here." Tension persisted into the winter despite a decrease in the number of blatantly racist acts.
Questions about racism at Harvard attracted national attention in mid-October, when a preliminary report on admissions, prepared by Robert E. Klitgaard '68, special assistant to President Bok, sparked controversy because of its claims about the aptitude and performance of certain ethnic groups. The so-called "Klitgaard report" states that women and minorities at top universities often do not perform as well academically as their high aptitude-test scores would predict, and it adds that Jewish students often do better academically than their scores would indicate.
While President Bok, who was angered over the unauthorized release of the report, and other administrators attempted to allay fears that the document might adversely affect Harvard's admissions policies, more than 200 incensed students rallied in the Yard and marched through University Hall in late October, demanding an increased commitment to affirmative action and an official public denial of the Klitgaard report.
Although Bok refused to hold up completion of a final Klitgaard report--which should be finished this summer--the University did acquiesce to another request from minority students: the establishment of a "Third World Center." But the proposal submitted in late January by the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, minister in the Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, and his committee did not quite fit the model Third World students had envisioned. Instead of advocating a University-funded center primarily for Third World students, the committee--commissioned by Bok in the wake of Spring 1980 requests--recommended the creation of a "foundation" for race relations, to be supported by outside donors. Although Bok voiced some support for the idea, many Faculty members seemed skeptical, saying that current resources were adequate for improving race relations and that the proposed institution might disturb the role of the Houses. The proposal has come to rest at the doorstep of the Faculty Council, which has had but not discussed it since mid-March.
As racial tensions continually heightened and subsided, the Harvard community looked to Bok to provide some solutions. In his sixth "open letter" during the past two years, issued in late February, Bok focused on the issue of race relations, "reaffirming" the University's commitment to affirmative action in hiring, diversity among the student body, the Afro-American Studies Department and the proposed "foundation"--"if there is genuine interest" in such a project.
Attempting to sensitize themselves to the plight of minority students at what has traditionally been a bastion of white, male values, many non-minority students joined in the fight against racism, blatant and institutionalized. "It's not just the BSA that's being attacked--it's all of us," one white student who participated in the fall rally against racism said, adding, "This isn't just a Black issue--it's a human issue."
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It had difficulty getting announcements on official University kiosks and vandals continued to deface its posters, but the Gay Students Association (GSA) did not quit in its fight to overcome discrimination, and its efforts began to pay off.
But some of the victories were less than complete. Lost in parliamentary procedure during its December meeting, the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life did not approve the placement of an informational pamphlet on homosexuality in second semester registration packets. It did, however, authorize the introduction of a second packet, which eventually contained the GSA's brochure.
In a further attempt to educate the Harvard community on gay issues, the GSA launched a campaign this spring to obtain an official College stance opposing discrimination against gays. The proposal made it as far as the Faculty Council; and although that body denied the need for the policy, the GSA's efforts forced gay issues into the administrative limelight.