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Why I Left the Afro-Am Dept.



To the Editors of The Crimson:

My decision to enter the Afro-American Studies Department last spring was based primarily on my desire to receive a diverse education at Harvard. The interdisciplinary philosophy appealed to me. I felt that I would have a great deal of freedom in choosing classes that interested me.

After my first term in the department, I realized that the department offered more than the opportunity to get a broad education. Afro-American Studies revealed a new and intriguing picture of American history, society and culture. In beginning to understand the experience of Blacks in this nation, America took on a new shape and a deeper, more complex society was revealed to me.

It was the country of Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln and W.E. B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey. It was the land of freedom and slavery, achievement and misery. It was a nation that revealed itself, in its history and philosophy, as an enigma; a confrontation of race and ideals. Afro-Am offered an opportunity to understand the United States.

My decision to leave the department was the result of the realization that Harvard as an institution is unable to provide a meaningful education to Afro-American Studies students. The tenure system and the additional, arbitrary restrictions placed upon hiring for the department have strangled growth. The best scholars in the field, lured by offers of immediate tenure and extraordinary salaries, go anywhere in the country except Harvard.

What's worse is the apparent disregard the University has for the department. Afro-American Studies has been cast aside as a relic of political activism and radicalism. It is treated more as an annoyance than as a meaningful contributor to Harvard. In such an atmosphere there is no real opportunity to receive a meaningful and vital education. At Harvard, it seemed to me, there was no hope, nor any future in Afro-American Studies.

The department has something important to offer the University. Harvard has a responsibility to support the department and recognize its legitimacy. What Afro-American Studies concentrators want and deserve is the respect they have earned as students in the Harvard community. Steve Brown '92

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