Hitting Home


HEY, Hey, Ho, Ho! Racism, sexism and homophobia have got to go!

Abandoning the shanties and the foreign affairs of the past few years, Harvard students last year turned their attention inward. Instead of rallying against the unfairness of the world, they found injustice enough in the Yard.

Three thousand students signed a pro-neutrality position paper for the clerical and technical workers union, hundreds of students sported anti-homophobia buttons, and almost every dinner table on campus became the site for debates about final club sexism.

Why were students involved in this supposed era of apathy? Because last year's activism hit home in a way divestment activism never could.

Stocks, intangible bits of Harvard's unfathomable wealth, occupy a distant realm for students preoccupied with classes, activites and social life. But the administration, elitism and prejudice on campus influence our daily lives.


Harvard may follow a relatively democratic admissions policy, but students found that democracy fails to extend far beyond their acceptance letter. Once here, students are confronted with a web of prep school ties and exclusive social clubs.

And so students who never before attended a divestment rally, last year felt no compunction about taking a stand against sexism or racism or anti-gay discrimination. At times, it was like sticking up for a friend.

Much of the inspiration for this democratization came from women and minority staff members who, after being shut out of the University power structure for so long, began to rise up last year, demanding across-the-board fair treatment, from secretarial union representation to discrimination lawsuits.

ONE senior took the final steps to end sexism in the final clubs, filing a descrimination complaint with the state against the Fly Club. Fellow students supported her cause, creating Stop Withholding Access Today (SWAT) to help fund and carry on the suit after she graduated.

The University had cut ties to the clubs in 1984, but this failed to address the real problem of exclusion, leaving the clubs right in the geographic center of campus as a major force in social life. Officially, Harvard can take no blame for the sexism, but neither can it take credit for its end.

The Minority Students Alliance compiled a report criticizing the University for failing to aggressively recruit minority faculty. Black law students held a 24-hours sit-in at the dean's office to protest inaction on minority faculty hiring.

Undergraduates went beyond the conventional concerns in their defense of equal treatment and nonprejudicial attitudes. Last spring students organized a Defeat Homophobia group and sponsored discussions on discrimination and harrassment during Gay/Lesbian Awareness Days. Students also created an AIDS education outreach service.

As support staff organized for a union, students joined in the cause, doing union paperwork, holding rallies and tabling in the dining halls for student support. At a meeting with President Bok, students presented a petition with 3000 signatures and the endorsement of 21 campus organizations demanding administration neutrality.

ALTHOUGH these organizations focus on diverse issues, their complaints have a common orientation--fairness--and a common target--elitism. But they lack a unified spokesman. The Undergraduate Council, which funds these groups, would seem to make a helpful advocate: the nominal undergraduate representative would seem to be the natural leader for efforts for student justice. But last year students found that the council would not champion their cause. Instead of battling sexism in the final clubs, the council balked and seemed more interested in equitably representing the students who buy into elitism here, than backing institutions open to all of its constituents. Yet diverse group membership is a much better reflection of what the Harvard of 1988 stands for than are clubs based on wealth and private school connections.

But throughout the year, the council showed that it was more inclined to whisper than shout on behalf of its constituents' concerns. It abandoned its efforts on behalf of junior faculty tenure. It stood by as the College tightened its alcohol policy in the face of vehement student opposition. It rejected a proposal to back administration neutrality in the union election and only asked administrators not to unduly pressure employees to vote no--which is an illegal tactic anyway.