More than 25 North House residents gathered last night to discuss how and why race affects seating in College dining halls. They agreed that race plays an important role in where students sit, but did not agree that such social separation was a problem.
The meeting, organized by a new group called Student Race Relations Resources, was prompted by descriptions of racially divided dining halls reported in last week's Crimson feature series, "Dealing With Difference."
Students began by saying that, for better or worse, at North House and elsewhere, many diners sit only with students of similar racial or ethnic backgrounds.
But students differed on why such divisions occur. Black Students' Association Vice President Zaheer R. Ali '94 said that he did not feel forced to sit at a Black table. "I just feel like this is the most relaxing atmosphere where I can eat and enjoy my meal," he said.
But a white tutor in the house said he feels afraid to sit down at an exclusively minority table. And students debated whether racially determined seating is the result of minorities who discourage others from sitting at their tables, or the majority who simply don't take the initiative to sit down with non-whites.
Another source of contention was whether social interaction between members of different races was desirable, or even possible.
"You're integrating on a daily basis by going to classes," said North House tutor Tomni Dance. She said that, since minority students take classes with white students and learn from predominantly white scholars, it is unfair to place the additional demand of social interaction on minority students alone.
"I think that it is in some respects a majority problem," said Randal Jean Baptiste '92.
Students also discussed issues of diversity at Harvard beyond those encountered in the dining halls. One student called for "institutional support" directed at bringing the races closer together, and suggested a required course. Baptiste proposed showing "Eyes on the Prize," a documentary miniseries about the civil rights movement in the U.S., to all incoming first-year students.
Some objected that such mandatory efforts do nothing to bring about natural social interaction. Dance, however, called such proposals "not forced integration, but multicultural education.