In Defense of the Coalition for Diversity


In the Opinion Section of the March 26th edition of the Harvard Crimson, Mr. James W. Fields, an undergraduate in the college, criticized the "Coalition For Diversity" as being exclusive and a divisive force on campus that "has not served to integrate students or faculty members at Harvard." Mr. Fields seems to have misunderstood the purpose of the Coalition For Diversity.

I am not a member of the coalition, but have followed its activity actively. The purpose of the Coalition For Diversity is explicitly expressed in its name. Its initial demands, listed in the "Peculiar Institution" flyer distributed at Junior Parent's Weekend, included a response to Harvey Mansfield's comments that grade inflation was a product of affirmative action and the enrollment of increasing numbers of Black students on campus, greater efforts in the hiring of and tenuring of minority faculty, ethnic studies in the academic curriculum, and fair representation of Asian/Asian-American students in events and student panels similar to the "Celebrating Diversity at Harvard/Radcliffe Panel" which included a senior professor, a Caucasian woman, a Black man, and a Jewish man (these were the communities that they were representing). One purpose of this newly formed coalition is race relations by means of increasing diversity in academic curriculum and faculty.

Mr. Field's portrayal of the coalition's actions is unjust and sound somewhat like a parental guilt trip: "[the coalition's] members interrupted Junior Parents Weekend in a confrontational manner, showing little respect to the many parents that had travelled from around the world to spend time with their children," [the coalition] preferring to intimidate students, parents, and faculty members in public arenas rather than to explain themselves in a civil manner." The program on diversity was not interrupted; the coalition members allowed the discussion to proceed naturally. They had simply presented the issue of diversity on this campus to the parents and to the other attendees.

Our parents deserve to know what is going on at this university. Their show of concern can do a great deal in supporting the demands for increased diversity at Harvard/Radcliffe. During the program, several parents (including Harvard alumni) expressed views in support of greater diversity at the University. This demonstration of the coalition's concerns was the introduction of a topic of discussion, a topic that has been brought up over and over again in the course of this university's history, but the concerns of which have never been adequately met.

The Coalition For Diversity addresses issues not addressed by other race relations-oriented organizations on campus. It has been successful thus far in bringing the needs of its members and of many other unspoken students to the attention of the administration. It has been an important vehicle in heightening the discussion of issues of ethnicity and diversity on this campus. Mr. Fields feels that this doesn't "foster feelings of community spirit," rather, it leads to the division of the student body into "self-segregated minority groups," what he describes as a regrouping of "old factions on a campus that is far from unified."

Where does Mr. Fields get the idea that these factions, if they really do exist, are old and were disbanded. If they exist, they've been around for a long time, and they're still around. Perhaps, he just hasn't noticed them before the Coalition For Diversity appeared. Perhaps, this is a sign that the coalition's formation has led to an increased awareness on campus; an awareness that is essential for the community spirit that Mr. Fields speaks of. Good relations are not fostered on ignorance.

According to Mr. Fields, the coalition has "ironically.... Created more problems for diversity at Harvard than any other recent event." What exactly does he mean by "problems"? Does the fact that we're actually talking about these issues present itself as a "problem" to Mr. Fields? According to Newsweek, 70 percent of college faculty consists of white males. Does the fact that the administration is making moves toward increasing ethnic studies curricula and minority faculty hiring at Harvard/Radcliffe pose a "problem" for diversity or does it pose a "problem" for Mr. Fields? Perhaps Mr. Fields feels that we are pestering our administrators.

Mr. Fields criticizes the coalition's tactics as play[ing] on white students' and administrators sympathies or guilt." What exactly is there to feel guilty about? And, if there is something worth feeling guilt about, perhaps that should be rectified. Mr. Fields states that "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'..." Are you saying, Mr. Fields, that I should be happy since I'm no longer a slave or an indentured servant (neither of which case applies to my ancestors' history in the United States)? No, Harvard is certainly not "the plantation," by any means, but the racism that existed then still exists at Harvard today to some extent. It is not so much a racism of hatred as it is one of ignorance.

The coalition is not, as Mr. Field alleged, playing on "white students' and administrators' sympathies or guilt," they are simply demanding that this injustice and inequity that you mentioned be corrected. Mr. Fields segregated the white students from "everyone else" on this campus by making this statement.

I'm not sure all "white students" agree with your statement, nor do they all feel that they have something to feel guilty about. White males are not the bad guys. There is simply something wrong with "the system"; it is what is outdated, not the ideas of the coalition. The Coalition For Diversity's efforts have led to greater communication among students and faculty in the University and while people may differ in their views on the issues that we're discussing, that's a fact of life. This is the root of the multi-partisanship which contributes so greatly to our democracy. The Coalition For Diversity has led to a unification in the student body among those who care about the issue of diversity on this campus. It has created a discussion yielding ideas and suggestions that will lead to more fine-tuned products of efforts made toward diversity. I wouldn't call it divisiveness. I call it people with different views and ideas coming together for the benefit of the University. They all share one thing in common, a concern for the integrity and quality of the University's academic curriculum and faculty. If you care enough to get involved. I doubt that the coalition or the administration would deny you your right to do so. Peggy H. Nguyen '94