WHEN we all received our application packets in the mail before coming to Harvard, we read a lot about diversity.
The University is hell-bent on the notion that we will all learn more if we have students of diverse ethnicities, sexual preferences and socio-economic backgrounds everywhere--in the houses, in the dining halls and in the classrooms. Administrators, professors and students all bend over backwards to create a diverse atmosphere at Harvard.
But the University seems to bend over further for Spike Lee. When Harvard's newest teacher gave his first lecture, he made a mockery of Harvard's supposed dedication to diversity--and Harvard was there to back him up.
SANDERS Theatre was packed with students of different ethnic and academic backgrounds at Lee's first lecture. But then Lee announced that he was looking forward to imparting his knowledge to "young Afro-American film-makers." And when asked which students would be admitted to his class, Lee answered, "First of all, this is for Afro-Am majors."
Then he said that he would let in "some of those "what are they called?"--at which point he turned to Dean of Students Archie C. Epps and the head teaching fellow for help with the name of those other people that would be taking the course. "Oh yeah," he added, "VES majors."
Visual and Environmental Studies is a cumbersome and odd name. There's no reason that Lee, who is new to Harvard, should remember it. But there was more to Lee's question than just forgetfulness. Throughout his presentation, Lee was indifferent to everyone except the group of students he seems to have targeted in his choice to teach at Harvard.
Lee said he would be just as exclusive with his time outside the class. Harvard's newest teacher said that he would hold office hours, but that each student would be allotted only 15 minutes of his time.
Lee added that only students taking his class would be allowed to see him during office hours. He also said that he probably won't commit to any other speaking engagements while he is here at Harvard, because he is very busy finishing his new movie, Malcolm X.
I know that our visiting teacher is a busy guy. But his presence at Harvard, under these conditions, is restrictive and fragmentary.
LEE'S ideas should be heard by more than just a small group of students he wants to teach. And he should hear from a broader range of students as well. What Lee doesn't seem to understand is that he has been invited to join the Harvard community--and all the diversity that comes with it. His exclusive attitude is detrimental to the cross-cultural communication that we have tried so hard to facilitate.
As a film-maker and a highly public person, Lee has become a prominent figure in one of the most sensitive issues that our society faces--race relations.
By inviting such a creative, opinionated individual, the administration created the opportunity for Harvard students to expand the discussion about the nation's racial unrest. Perhaps some limited progress--at least in this community--could have been made.
The present policy limits more than just the size of the class. By closing off the course to the rich variety of academic and ethnic backgrounds that make up the Harvard student body, Lee is limiting the potential for the students and the teacher to learn the most they possibly can from one another.
Harvard's acceptance of Lee's attitude of exclusion means the community has missed an opportunity for further communication. And Harvard seems to ignore the fact that Lee violates the University's commitment to open discourse.
In his films, Lee has made Americans think about questions of identity and race relations--sensitive issues that many Americans would like to ignore. His movies urge us to think about and discuss these concerns. But apparently he doesn't want to discuss them himself. If Lee has something to say--and his movies would have us believe that he does--then he should say it to everyone.