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After Two weeks of angry letters, fiery flyers and even stepped up police patrols around Hillel and The Crimson, what may still become the next national example of poor race relations at American colleges seems to be losing some of its rage. The detente is welcome.
The firestorm began with a letter form Harvard Foundation Director S. Allen Counter and Foundation student Co-chair Natosha O. Reid '93 who raised criticisms of this paper, charging "the-Crimson group" with biased coverage and defending the Foundation from attacks by "Crimson writers active in Hillel."
We testily responded by correcting some errors and exposing some of the coded language used by the authors. Although we never called Counter an anti-Semite, as charged by some on campus, we did suggest that some of the comments could "be read as anti-Semitic."
The University's response has been mixed. Although President Neil L. Rudenstine called Counter's letter to The Crimson "a mistake," he has urged the campus to "work with him now to produce a better environment for all of us."
Counter himself apologized on April 15, two days after his letter appeared in The Crimson, "for any misunderstanding any of the things that were stated in [it]" and has met with representatives from Hillel. Last week, he also apologized if he "inadvertently contributed to the tensions" on campus.
Almost every minority group or cultural organization on campus, excluding Hillel, the South Asian Association and the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Students Association (BGLSA), has expressed support for Counter.
Five of the six largest groups blasted The Crimson for various mistakes in covering minority issues in a joint letter that appeared Friday. Now, Rudenstine said, the task is to "stop blaming each other" and "see whether we can't pick up the pieces." We too believe this must be the goal.
THREE Issues have been most debated during the controversy: The Crimson's performance in covering minority issues and events, Counter's performance as director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and whether Counter's letter and a 1985 article in The Crisis were indeed insensitive.
The Crimson's performance. We have acknowledged and lamented the lack of racial diversity on our staff--sometimes in print. Efforts to recruit minority reporters, photographers, columnists and others have been only partially successful. Repeated recruiting visits to minority organization meetings have in the past been met with indifference.
Counter and minority student groups have raised valid criticisms of The Crimson's news coverage. We are a learning institution and some errors are bound to happen. We welcome letters to the editor when we make mistakes and we place a high priority on correcting and learning from our errors. We are confident, in general, that we do a good job of covering campus news.
Criticism of The Crimson has also confused the staff opinions of our editorial board with our news coverage. Every newspaper in the country takes stands on pressing community issues and it is the most fundamental tenet of journalism that opinionated men and women can set those opinions aside and cover news fairly.
Thus, we did not persecute Leonard Jeffries for his political views, nor did we treat him unfairly in our news coverage of his speech and the controversy surrounding it. We criticized Jeffries because he threatened the life of a Crimson reporter and has made other suggestions of violence against whites and ethnic minorities.
To be sure, one look in our newsroom does not show the most diverse bunch of faces. Progress can be made, especially with Blacks and Hispanics. Not only do we seek diversity for its won sake--we would like all students to feel welcome to take part in The Crimson--but we realize that this relative lack to diversity has implications. By not having not having people connected with Black and Hispanic communities on campus, our reporting can miss certain nuances of feeling within those communities--not by conspiratorial intention, but by simply not always knowing what's going on or whom to ask.
Nothing will change without efforts to reach out--efforts we have renewed recently. Afro-American Studies Chair Henry Louis Gate Jr. has offered to help us recruit. The answer, however, cannot be false accusations and overstated charges of helping to run what the Black Students, Association called "the Harvard plantation."
Counter's performance as Foundation director. The Crimson has never argued that Allen Counter has failed in his efforts to host events that salute the cultural richness at Harvard. And we have never doubted the tirelessness of his endeavors to celebrate diversity.
Nevertheless, we have shown that University Hall--not Counter himself--has not done enough to address other problems and tensions in a community of difference. Counter's specific role in dealing with these broader problems had never been clear. In fact, his official job seems to be limited to "feel good" events.
Some say he shares the task of building racial harmony with Assistant Dean of Minority Affairs Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle, but their interdepartmental bickering has hindered efforts to unify the campus. In the recent controversy, the task of mending campus tensions has fallen to Rudenstine--not to a single designated race relations administrator.
Beginning last fall, we have urged the University to consolidate the Foundation and Hernandez-Gravelle's Office of Race Relations and Minority Affairs under a charismatic leader who can galvanize the campus--all of the campus--around racial harmony. We encourage Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles to move in this direction.
Counter's sensitivity. The recent debate over Counter's ability to deal well with all campus minority groups is not the first. In 1982, The Crimson filed a grievance against Counter for labeling a Crimson reporter a "militant Jew" after having only heard the reporter's Jewish surname.
In addition, Counter has never publicly disavowed comments made in "Racial Slurs," his 1985 Crisis commentary which charged that "para-white ethnic groups" use anti-Black epithets "to convince themselves and others of their imagined white identity."
The article also speaks of "what may well be part of a much larger ethnic scheme designed to denigrate Afro-American and keep them as the focus of negative attention for the American majority." The scheme is led by "Euro-American individuals and special interest groups with powerful influence in the media." We never hear slurs directed at "any other target of neo-Nazi hatred," Counter wrote.
The coded images for the old charge of Jewish control of the media can be easily seen. When asked about the article earlier this month, Counter simply said it mentioned no ethnic groups by name. His inability or unwillingness to see the insensitivity of such an article raises serious doubts about his capacity for bringing all campus groups together--even in the limited role he occupies now.
Similarly, his apologies for the letter fall short. "I am deeply sorry for any discomfort I may have caused any students in Hillel or otherwise in my efforts to raise important issues which are bought to our office regarding problems in race relations," Counter said.
But what about the inaccuracies of the letter? What about explaining Black-Jewish tensions on campus with only a misinterpreted comment from a Jewish student? What about quoting anonymous people who suggest that The Crimson might agree with Jewish racists and selectively blast Black racists?
Counter apologized for those who felt "discomfort" because they misread the letter--not for the specifics of the letter itself. But these were not "misunderstandings" on our part. His refusal to acknowledge and retract the racially charged elements of his letter again raises doubts about his sensitivity.
The campus groups who have registered their support with the embattled Foundation director have neglected to mention the article or the letter. And the signatures of students from Hillel, BGLSA and the South Asian Association are conspicuously absent from "unified" calls to defend Counter.
IF HARVARD is to heal recent campus tensions and go beyond numerical diversity to ease the frictions caused by difference, it must change the current "policy" of dealing with race and cultural relations.
Counter's role in a new policy should remain limited. Under a new policy, he would be the organizer of cultural appreciation events and no more. To deal with real problems of race relations, this campus needs a strong leader who is sensitive to all ethnic groups. Allen Counter in not that leader.
Oddly enough, some progress may come out of this year's conflicts over race and sensitivity. The Crimson has renewed its commitment to seeking out diverstiy on its staff. Some minority groups have aired their concerns about our paper and about other groups on campus. It is only this sort of constructive dialogue--though marred on occasion by insensitive rhetoric--that can begin to heal the problems of diversity at Harvard.
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