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Participants in a panel discussion yesterday on the experience of Black women undergraduates at Harvard celebrated Henry L. Gates Jr.'s acceptance of a tenured position in the Afro-American studies department, but cautioned against optimism that he can revitalize the department singlehandedly.
"I want to make sure that we don't see this one victory as the end, although I want to congratulate ourselves--we did have an influence...we can make more changes," said Eva Nelson '92 at the discussion, which was the kick-off event of African-American History month.
The seven student panelists told the 40-person audience at Radcliffe's Bunting Institute that the Black Harvard community must come together and demand greater representation of Blacks in the curriculum and in positions of authority.
They also said that Black students need to find a source of self-affirmation beyond the limited support Harvard offers.
Reading books outside those assigned in courses is one important way of identifying with their culture, some of them said, because of the dearth of classes addressing the experiences of Blacks since the 1960s Civil Rights movement. This is particularly important for Black women, whose role in this movement is often ignored, they said.
"I read a lot of outside books," said Mecca J. Nelson '91, president of the Black Students Association. "The opportunities to study here [about African-American women] are limited, extremely limited."
Several of the students said they had to assume a double role of educator and student--educating the Harvard-Radcliffe community about their culture while at the same time receiving an education.
"I have to do a lot of explaining here, which is why I sometimes wish I had gone somewhere else," said Stacey Carter '93.
Panelists pointed out that no Black women appeared on the syllabus of Winthrop Professor of History Stephen A. Thernstrom's class, "Race and Race Relations Since the Great Depression."
Another way to find solace in an environment many characterized as less than friendly and open, the panelists said, is by keeping contact with the Black community at home.
"Harvard was not created with African-American women in mind...this place takes a long time to change," Mecca Nelson said.
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