Race Relations Foundation Works to Gain Acceptance

After a semester of of behind the scenes activity and low-key negotiations. S. Allen Counter and the race relations Foundation he heads may be emerging from the shadows The Foundation sponsored a speech last at the Science Center by Walter J. Massey a prominent Black scientist and head of the Argonne Laboratories, signaling a new phase of visible activity by the group which has been charged by the University with easing racial tensions on campus.

Bok and Comes

The Foundation was formed last year on the recommendation of the Comes Committee, a group appointed by President Bok to examine student demands for a Third World Center. The committee rejected the idea of a special Third World Center, instead urging the creation of the Foundation The Foundation is not a physical center, rather it constitutes a series of programs designed to improve race relations on the campus.


The Foundations is a "two-pronged effort," according to the Rev Peter J Gomes, who chaired the committee that recommended it will work both for the "resolution of differences among racial group on campus and as a forum where common gifts can be shared," he says To achieve these ends, Counter, head of the foundation, has revealed a structure of six student committees and a Faculty committee that will recommend and implement Foundation actions

But the Foundation has not had an easy time in establishing its legitimacy. It was counted "under the must adverse circumstances," Genes said, adding that "It has neither a mandate from the students to be reserving judgment about the Foundation. In particular, students who worked hard for a Third World Counter seem worried that the Foundation may provide little more than a crumb thrown to them after their defeat on the major issue. The administration's and Faculty's feelings may come out next week, when Counter will meet with University officials to negotiate the Foundation's budget for fiscal 1983.


The responsibility of the University to fund the Foundation seems a subject of some contention. John B. Fox, dean of students, says the Foundation should raise a large part of its funds by itself. "In a way," Fox says, "one test of the effective ness of the program is the willingness of people outside the University to fund it." But others seem to feel that the University's financial commitment to the Foundation should be stronger. Gomes, who now chairs the Foundation's Faculty Committee, says an "extraordinary effort is necessary" to raise outside funds, because the traditionally generous alumni sources may not give great amounts to promote an abstract cause like race relations, and because of the scarcity and relative youth of Third World alumni. "But clearly the University did not buy that argument," Gomes says, adding, "I know that one of the important issues was that it generate income--that it not need Lesley become a line in the dean's budget."

The Foundation was budgeted last year at "less than $10,000," Counter says, an amount Fox says he "more or less grabbed out of the air last spring. Although $10,000 is not a large budget by most Harvard standards, Martha Coburn, assistant dean for financial affairs, said. "What we did was give him a small, moderate start-up budget--the intention was not to restrict his activities." Coburn and Fox say that Counter is free to ask for more funds on a "program-by-program basis," which in academic financing implies less independence than if a program is just budgeted initially at a higher amount. Counter himself has said that the "shoe-string budget" under which he has operated "limits tremendously the amount of things I'd like to do."

The requirement that the Foundation raise a substantial part of its own budget has kept Counter busy fundraising. Although he says the University promised him a lot of help in his efforts, he notes that "the Harvard drive still makes people feel money should go to Harvard." This fall, Counter even went to the Black Students Association for money. "The BSA was sort of led to believe that our participation would be allowed as far as we were able to contribute money." BSA president Gaye Williams '83 says, adding that Counter has not formally contacted the BSA since they turned down his request. Williams says she finds particular irony in the University asking financially strapped student groups to finance its Foundation. "In every other university," Williams said, "money flows from the administration to the student groups. Harvard seem to want it to go the other way."

Perhaps the greatest hurdle the Foundation will have to overcome, however, is convincing the students body of its worth. Counter recently unveiled six student committees he has established to work on different aspects of race relations. But many students appear to be reversing judgment, particularly those who remember last year's fight for a Third World Center. Ricardo Alverez '84, a student involved in that fight, recalls that many students were turned off the whole idea of a Foundation when the Gomes Committee did not recommend a Third World Center. Alverez says that a group of students then met with Bok, who "responded by saying those were going to be the conditions, period." Alverez says that most of the group did not seek to channel their efforts into the new Foundation, adding. "We didn't want to get involved with them on those terms."

Particularly when compared to the demands for a concrete presence like a Third World Center, many students feel that an abstract concept like the Foundation has a lot to prove. Many students say that the Third World Center was the crucial issue, and once that was denied, it was not very important what concession they made instead. "A lot of students see it as just a way of appeasing them." Akili Tyson '83, who worked for a Third World Center, says, "Among students who worked hard to get a Third World center there is a real feeling of betrayal." Williams says. "The University set up a committee to talk the students out of what they wanted."

Counter explains the low profile the Foundation has kept so far, saying "it requires a lot of basic organization, and that's what I've been working on for the last semester." The result of this work is six student committees, which will form the bulk of the Foundation. The committees will conform to the Foundation's "two-pronged effort" by both mediating and negotiating instances of racial tension on campus, and also working to promote minority culture on campus.

The athletic affairs committee, for example, will address the question of discrimination in Harvard athletics. "Many students have expressed to me the notion that there is a subtle racism in athletics," Counter says, adding that some students have told him that "many people who are quite good are not permitted to play due to poor judgment on the part of the coaches or favoritism." The committee will meet with coaches directly and voice these concerns. Counter says. The Foundation will try to "do it in a more tactful way" than has previously been tried, Nina Henderson '83, a member of the committee, said. The academic affairs committee will carry out similar negotiations on matters of minority admissions, professors attitudes toward minority students, and the hiring of minority faculty. Counter says, adding, "We're going to deal with specific cases."

In addition to this role of mediating in campus racial matters, Counter says other committees will work on a tutoring program in local schools, and on supporting minority cultural activities. The tutoring program will hire Harvard students to tutor minority students in the Cambridge school system, helping fulfill what Counter calls Harvard's responsibilities as "good corporate citizen." The Science and Cultural Affairs committee will work to encourage minority students in the sciences, and to bring minority cultural figures to Harvard.

One issue that may plague the committees, however, is the fact that their members may not be perceived as really representing the student body. There were no elections, and no formal announcement that any student who wished to serve on a committee should contact Counter. Instead, the committees were announced with positions already filled. One member said that her father was a friend of Counter's, and another said she met Counter by inviting him to several events she was working on One member of the academic affairs committee said that he has known Counter since his freshman year. "I'm a friend of Counter's, basically," he says, adding. "I think he's gotten together a lot of people he knows he can rely on."

In addition to the student committees, the Foundation will have a Faculty committee that will meet regularly to guide its efforts. Each member of that group will also serve on at least one student committee. The Faculty committee will serve "mostly as an advisory body, to offer Counter support," Kiyo Morimoto, director of the Bureau of Study Council and a member of the Faculty committee, says. But members of the Faculty committee say that they will probably not be much more than an advisory group and "sounding board." Gomes, for example, says he is being careful not to upstage Counter. "I, who was responsible for it [the Foundation] had to get out of the way," he said, adding. "I have quite consciously absented myself."

Supporters of the Foundation warn that people should not be too quick in dismissing it because of its behind-the-scenes approach. "The contribution of the Foundation won't be seen for a year or two, or even three," Gomes says. Even many of those less optimistic about the Foundation acknowledge that right now it is the official University effort toward race relations, and all they can do is hoe it surpasses their expectations. "It's the question of the 1980s: Do you try to cooperate with a sinking ship, or do you start something new of your own." Williams says, adding, "I think it's an open question."CrimsonNevin I. ShallStudent call Jor Third World Center before 1980 Yale Gune.

Recommended Articles