It's been a rocky year for race relations.
In February, eight campus groups greeted controversial speaker Leonard Jeffries with an indignant protest.
In March, anti-Asian slurs appeared on the poetry board of Lamont Library, and Asian students received a series of harassing phone calls.
In April, Harvard foundation Director S. Allen Counter clashed with The Crimson over the newspaper's coverage of minorities. His letter provoked accusations of insensitivity from Jewish students and a call for his resignation.
In May, the editors of a conservative magazine plastered the campus with posters referring to African Americans as "spades" and "Negroes," The Black Students Association (BSA) shot back with a flyer describing Harvard as a "plantation" and charging the Harvard police with harassing minority students.
Just days later, Harvard's race troubles were eerily echoed across the country. The Rodney King verdict fell, the riots erupted, and suddenly race issues were also in the national spotlight.
"I think it was a tense year, and that seemed to parallel a tense year for the rest of the nation," says BSA President Zaheer R. Ali '94.
Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III says, "I think that we've had our share of problems, including racism directed toward minorities and charges of anti-Semitism."
The problems first surfaced with the BSA's decision to invite Jeffries to speak on campus. The City University of New York professor has been accused of making anti-Italian, anti-Semitic and anti-gay comments in the past.
Former BSA President Art A. Hall '92 says the group invited Jeffries as part of a year-long celebration of black culture.
BSA expected some criticism, he says, but it was "interested in exploring different viewpoints that exist within the [Black] community."
Hillel Coordinating Council Chair Shai A. Held '94 organized an eight-group coalition that included the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Students association, the Asian American Association, the Radcliffe Union of Students, Raza, the South Asian Association and Actively Working against Racism and Ethnocentrism.
About 450 participated in the peaceful and subdued protest outside Sanders Theatre, where Jeffries addressed an audience of several hundred. Although BSA leaders emphasized the right of others to protest the event, the speech left some tension in its wake.
Held said the protest left "a wound but not a break" in BSA-Hillel relations. Other minority leaders said they saw some estrangement, but held out hope for reconciliation.
But a true reconciliation was delayed by a fight over a letter co-written by Dr. S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation. Counter criticized The Crimson's coverage of minority issues, but some say he went too far and implied a link between Hillel and The Crimson.
Held said the letter was "filled with misrepresentations, distortions and outright lies" and "smacked of standard anti-Semitic fare." A former Hillel coordinating council co-chair who was quoted anonymously in Counter's letter asked the College to dismiss the director.
Counter later apologized for any "discomfort" caused by his letter and said he meant only to express the feelings communicated to him by many students.
Although The Crimson criticized Counter, a coalition of several minority groups including BSA, Raza and AAA rallied to support him, praising his contributions to College life. President Neil L. Rudenstine eventually got involved and called for an end to the accusations.
In the midst of the brouhaha, the conservative magazine Peninsula began advertising an upcoming speech with a poster entitled "Spade Kicks: A Symposium on Modernity and the Negro as a Paradigm of Sexual Liberation." The poster included a photo of a Black woman stripping for a white audience.
Several students objected to the poster, calling it racist and offensive. Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 and Epps distributed two letters condemning the posters and reaffirming free speech rights.
About 40 Black students walked out of the Peninsula event in protest after one speaker used the word "Negro" 15 times.
"I'm sorry they didn't attempt to listen to the speakers' views," says Peninsula Council member Christian G. Vergonis '92. "I'm also sorry the deans tried to appease a fringe minority of liberal radicals."
In late April, the BSA distributed a flyer describing the campus environment as hostile to minorities. Titled "life on the Harvard Foundation," the poster criticized the Peninsula, the Law School, the Harvard Police Department and The Crimson.
Harvard officials responded to the BSA's complaints by arranging a series of meetings between Black students, Jewish students and high-level administrators as well as talks between Black and Hispanic students and police officials.
The discussions we expanded to the Houses after the Rodney King verdict and Los Angeles riots. Students also held a series of silent protests on the steps of Widener Library, and participated in marches in Boston.
"I do think it has been more tense here because the reaction to the Rodney King episode seemed to bring to the surface problems that we were not aware of," says Epps.
Questions remain about the future of relations between the College's minority communities and how University officials can improve them.
Ali says the campus is more aware of the problems of race relations. But argues that more needs to be done.
"I think there have been deep underlying tensions," he says. "I don't think all of these differences have been resolved."
"We leave knowing there are problems but there is hope--at tempts are underway and should be underway to deal with these problems," he says.
Epps says the administration will continue to address the problems raised by racial tensions on campus through the fall. The College will create a "working group" this summer to review this spring's events and make proposals.
Former Harvard Foundation Student Advisory Committee Co-Chair Muneer I. Ahmad '93 says it may be too early to judge the College's response to racial tensions.
"I think it's too soon to assess the administration's response --to do it on a short term basis is foolhardy," he says.
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