How to Start Doing Better Than Just 'Fine'


There needs to be an institutional commitment to working actively on the problems of dealing with diversity. The two offices devoted to those goals within the College do not live up to that promise.

HARVARD IS NOT SHY about extolling the virtues of a diverse community. The Harvard admissions brochure calls diversity "the hallmark of the Harvard experience." In fact, Harvard is often upheld as a model of diversity, a living example of racial, ethnic and cultural relations gone right.

But while Harvard is relatively free of outright bigotry, the University community has yet to perfect the art of dealing with difference. As a four-part feature series published in The Crimson last week demonstrates, students are asking many questions about the difficulties and challenges of living in a diverse community. Among them:

* Why are so many students unaware of the official methods of dealing with harassment?

* Why do so many students say their friends are almost exclusively drawn from one racial or ethnic group?


* Why do members of certain minority groups say they only feel comfortable in particular houses?

* Why are the University's activities aimed at "working against racism and ethnocentrism" so ineffective?

WE AGREE with the many students who said that, although the situation here is, at best, acceptable, Harvard and its students deserve better than just "fine." Of course, students themselves need to take responsibility for their own actions: making the most of a diverse community requires not only sensitivity, but also an active intent on the part of its members.

But Harvard cannot be an idle partner in efforts to deal with difference. There needs to be an institutional commitment both to react to "crisis" situations and to work actively to remedy the problems raised above. The two existing administrative organizations ostensibly devoted to furthering those goals within the College--The Harvard Foundation and The Office of Race Relations and Minority Affairs--do not live up to that promise.

"WE NEED more coordination," Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III says of the relationship between the Harvard Foundation and the Office. "We all agree, at least in this building [University Hall], that we need to coordinate the activities of those two offices more."

We agree completely. In fact, we believe the two offices could coordinate much better if they were merged. Although the Foundation tends to deal with more cultural issues, neither has a clearly defined role with respect to the other.

The two offices seem to be in competition for limited resources and administrative prestige. And this competition has become a source of childish and counterproductive hostility between Dr. S. Allen Counter of the Foundation and Assistant Dean Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle, who runs the Office.

In a 45 minute interview with The Crimson, Hernandez-Gravelle repeatedly and steadfastly refused to comment on the Foundation--an office that she should be dealing with productively on a daily basis. And in the Foundation's last two newsletters, there was not a single word about Hernandez-Gravelle or her office, resources that, we would think, would warrant mention by an organization dedicated to "multiculturalism." The result, many say, is that the two groups are simply tripping over each other.

Although the work of Counter's Foundation can be fairly criticized for relying too heavily on feel-good cultural activities, Foundation functions are, at least, well-attended. The Foundation's mandate is narrow, but it seems to do a decent job within that mandate. Hernandez-Gravelle's Office, with a much freer hand, fails to perform its crucial function within the University.

A MAJOR PART of Hernandez-Gravelle's job involves student outreach. But while the functions of Actively Working against Racism and Ethnocentrism (AWARE)--the student group that works under her auspices--are well-intentioned, they fall short of their stated goal. Relatively few students attend their events, which many criticize for being preachy and ineffective. What good is an outreach program if it doesn't reach anyone?