When he became race relations coordinator this fall, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III said he would embark on a complete re-evaluation of the campus race relations system. Last month, he gave his initial report, announcing a few observations and giving the College a passing grade. It was a start.
But it was a wishy-washy beginning. Epps basically told us what we already know: that campus race relations are OK, but not great; that race relations programs are largely reactive; that students need to communicate better.
To Epps' credit, some of his proposed race relations initiatives are useful--and should have been implemented long ago. An educational booklet on told The Crimson that they didn't know where to go to report a racial harassment incident.
A new emphasis on diversity in first-year orientation would also help; College officials seem to spend more time on the plagiarism policy than on introducing first-years to their new, ethnically diverse community. Epps should work closely with Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth S. Nathans, who is revamping orientation week.
Epps' plan to add training in mediation and negotiation is too vague. What does this mean? Who will be trained? And isn't this just another reactive solution, a way to deal with racial crises that have already erupted?
At best, Epps left his job unfinished; at worst, he ignored what he set out to do. He said he would rely on statistics and surveys to examine race relations, but so far his observations have focused much more on talks with student groups, tutors and house officials. Epps has said he wants to make the houses central to race relations programs. But it is uncertain how the houses fit into his stated ideas.
Race relations is arguably Harvard's biggest problem, and Epps' initiatives and observations don't go beyond the surface. To make substantial improvements in a race relations system that most agree isn't good enough, Epps has to reconsider our existing race relations structures.
That means doing something about the oft-overlapping Harvard Foundation and Office of Race Relations and Minority Affairs--not just pushing them gently to the background. It means looking at Harvard's student organizations and the way they interact. It means examining the housing system and the way it affects race relations. The College needs a race relations coordinator who is courageous enough to make changes and decisions that might not leave everyone happy.
Last fall, The Crimson called for a race relations official with the charisma to draw students and administrators together and the imagination and drive to try out new solutions to race relations problems. We're still waiting to see if Epps can fill that role.
Harvard so far has added a number of people to the administrative race relations effort, but without many results. Ethnically charged graffiti still appears on campus; many minorities still say they lack voices here. True, it's early, and tensions aren't nearly what they were last spring. But the innovation and energy we hoped to see is lacking.
Having good race relations calls for a long struggle, not a quick fix. However, it is time for the University to take stronger steps down that long road.
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