Dividing the Campus

I chose Harvard over other colleges because of its student body. I was excited to have the opportunity to go to a college that had a more diverse population--and yet a more unified school spirit--than my high school.

In my first year and a half, only half of my wish has been realized. Harvard undergraduates are indeed a diverse group, especially compared to the students at other Ivy League colleges. The numbers show it--Harvard openly advertises its percentages of Asian, African-American and Hispanic students, among other groups.

But rather than foster feelings of community spirit, the College's diversity is marked by the self-segregation of different minority groups and the subsequent factioning of the student body.

Emblematic of Harvard's fragmented student body is the recently formed Coalition for Diversity. Ironically, this coalition has created more problems for diversity at Harvard than any other recent event.

Webster's dictionary defines "coalition" as: "the act of coalescing: union." While it is true that Zaheer R. Ali '94 was able to bring together nine minority organizations in the newly formed coalition, he left out a very important population at Harvard; everyone else.

The Coalition for Diversity has done nothing to foster understanding and goodwill between the majority of the student body and the coalition members themselves. Instead, it has managed to regroup old factions on a campus that is far from unified. Although it seems counterintuitive, the coalition itself creates this division. In part, it is the coalition's tactics that make its designs so divisive. Its insistence upon anachronistic language and outdated ideas may try to play on white students' and administrators' sympathies or guilt. In reality, these measures foster defensiveness, not understanding.

Take the coalition's original flyer, which declared that the sins of a "Peculiar Institution" thrive at Harvard. Coalition members should try to focus on reality. If they believe that the racism that accompanied the slave system is really alive at Harvard, then they will be surprised at the injustice and racial inequality that exists in the real world. Harvard is far from the "plantation" and would be even farther if these minority students helped to unify the student body.

The coalition's actions are also controversial. Its members interrupted Junior Parents Weekend in a confrontational manner, showing little respect not only to other Harvard students and faculty members, but also to the many parents that had travelled from around the world to spend time with their children.

This behavior typifies the coalition's hypocrisy. Its members demand conversations with high ranking administrators, while preferring to intimidate students, parents, and faculty members in public arenas rather than to explain themselves in a civil manner.

Another divisive tactic is the coalition's demand for an ethnic studies concentration. Ethnic studies does not belong in the Core, as the coalition recently admitted, and it does not belong as a separate department. Ethnic studies should be referred to correctly as history--that is, American history. Harvard certainly needs more and better history courses, especially those dealing with immigrant groups and the role of minorities in the United States' development. But demanding unreasonable, impractical measures does nothing to rally support for ethnic studies as a concept.

"In addition, the coalition has not even attempted to build consensus among students. Coalition members haven't sent representatives to dining halls to explain their views or invited students en masse to attend coalition meetings. Their focus on the administration makes them appear uninterested in the support or ideas of other students.

The Coalition for Diversity has not served to integrate students or faculty members at Harvard, but to divide them. It has split the Harvard community into two groups: those who favor the coalition's goals, and those against them. The coalition has applied stereotypical labelling, separating people by race, gender, and background, rather than considering people one individual at a time.

If coalition members want to increase Harvard's awareness, they should start by becoming more aware of the other people in the community. Diversity is a good thing and should be celebrated by all, not monopolized by a small group that breeds exclusion. The best way for all of us to celebrate, acknowledge, and enjoy the diversity at Harvard is through greater unity, not divisiveness.

The coalition of minority organizations has left out a very important part of Harvard--everyone else.