The Harvard Foundation

S. Allen Counter responds to his critics

The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations had a banner year in 1984. We started in January with a visit by the late Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. for a Memorial Church service to honor the life of his son, and after 25 additional Foundation sponsored events, ended the year with a December 10th celebration of the Diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary) of the NAACP.

The fall of the 1984-85 academic year was especially productive. We hosted a Freshman Brunch for over 700 persons; a Memorial Church service for 900 persons to celebrate the life and work of South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize recipient; and the NAACP dinner for over 100 persons, including the organization's Executive Director, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, and his wife Frances Hooks. The Foundation is especially proud that all of these events were attended by students, faculty and staff of all races, backgrounds, colors and religions.

At a special faculty Club luncheon for Bishop Tutu and over 60 diverse students, faculty members, and administrators, the Bishop spoke of the importance of racial harmony and praised the Foundation's approach toward achieving this end. In his award acceptance remarks at the NAACP dinner and later in a letter to the Foundation. Dr. Hooks commended the multiracial gathering and thanked Harvard for remembering the 75th birthday of the organization.

After three years of development, the Foundation has moved from relative obscurity at Harvard to a position of prominence within the University community. Other colleges throughout the nation are studying the Foundation as a model for their own institutions. This success is due in no small measure to the efforts of a tiny but hardworking Foundation staff, a dedicated Faculty Advisory Committee, and many other committed individuals at Harvard.

The Foundation staff greatly appreciate the many letters and calls we received from 'students and faculty thanking us for the invitations to our events. We were particularly touched by a recent note from a Black freshman who attended the NAACP dinner. It read in part: "Thank you very much for inviting me to enjoy and help honor Benjamin Hooks and other contributors to the NAACP....I am very much interested in helping the Foundations." This is the kind of participating spirit that the Foundation has endeavored to develop.


Unfortunately we have also received a number of complaints from students who were not invited to the luncheon for Bishop Tutu, the NAACP dinner and a recent dinner for the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya. We humbly apologize to those students who were not invited but were interested in attending these events. We would like to assure them that no student of any background was deliberately excluded from these activities.

In inviting members of the University community to attend these events, we use several approaches. First of all, we usually select faculty, staff and students who have been involved with the work of the Foundation, including some of its Faculty Advisory Committee members and the Harvard administration. Secondly, we ask the House Masters to recommend students, faculty and staff who may be interested in or appropriate for the occasion and students who have demonstrated their commitment to improved race relations. Thirdly, leaders of most of the major students organizations (both minority and majority) are asked to recommend students and faculty for the Foundation's event. If a student or faculty member's interests are particularly relevant to the background and work of our guest, or if our guest recommends members of the Harvard community, those individuals are also invited if space and time permit. In this way, we receive input and participation from a large cross-section of the University community for each event.

The Harvard Foundation's programs are designed to enhance racial understanding and cultural interaction among our students and staff. Our race relations programs include debates, panel discussions in the Houses and at the Kennedy School Forum, public presentations by guest lecturers from a variety of fields, special services at the Memorial Church, dinners and luncheons to honor special guests who have made significant contributions to race relations, and the like. In keeping with the guiding philosophy of the Foundation, we extend invitations for each of our events to faculty, students and staff of all races, colors, backgrounds and religions. In an effort to spread our good will and information about the Foundation throughout the University, we try to invite different students, professors and staff to each event. We hope that at the end of each academic year, we will have involved a large percentage of the University community in the good works of the Foundation. We also invite a small number of local citizens (including alumni) to many of our activities in the interest of good community relations.

We apologize to the students who complained that the Foundation "invited too many students from the Black Students Association (BSA) to the NAACP/Tutu events and excluded Black students who are not members of BSA." We realize that the majority of Black students at Harvard are not members of the BSA and we try to include those students in our activities as well. We generally do not ask students about their political affiliation before we extend invitations to our activities.

We apologize to the members of the BSA who complained about our "inviting too many non-BSA members" and not enough of their leaders to our activities. However, we feel that non-BSA Black students have as much right to be represented at our events as BSA students. We have always invited the leaders and members of the BSA to our activities, just as we have invited the leaders of the American Indians at Harvard, the Harvard Radcliffe Asian American Association, RAZA, Hillel, the Crimson, the Independent, the Student Council, the Christian Fellowship, and other groups.

We apologize to those in the Harvard African Students Association who complained that we had "invited too many Afro-Americans and too few Africans" to the Bishop Tutu Luncheon and the Ambassador's dinner. At the same time we disagree with those who maintain that African students were more entitled to join the Bishop at the luncheon because he too is an African. The Bishop is a world leader who belongs to everyone, and we invited several African students to join other groups in celebrating the significance of this life to all of us.

We apologize to the members of the South African Solidarity Committee who complained that we invited the wrong Committee members to the Bishop Tutu luncheon and that we had the Bishop "deliver the Harvard line on divestiture." We tried to invite some of those persons who, to our knowledge, care a great deal about the South African issue. We also tried to include some of the SASC members recommended to us. We did not discuss with the Bishop what he should say on divestiture.

While the level, scope and quality of our programs would suggest an agency of much larger capacity, the Foundation is a small, part-time secretary, and three part-time student employees. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources or staff to canvass the University. Our students assistants, secretary, and I will generally contact invitees by telephone, espcially when our honoree gives us short notice of an arrival date or changes the date of the visit altogether. No doubt we will miss some interested students and faculty members in our guest selection for certain events. But in due course we hope to share our programs with a representative selection of faculty, staff and students.

The Harvard Foundation has always welcomed input and support from respectable students. Numerous students have demonstrated their interest in our work by contributing their time and by supporting our many projects. In fact, the Foundation and its students have sponsored some 50 public programs since its inception three-and-a-half years ago. We hope that many of you will join us in the future as we try to improve racial understandings at Harvard.

Dr. S. Allen Counter is Director of the Harvard Foundation for Interrelation and Race Relations.