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Staff Editorial Misrepresented The Goals of Weekend Protest

TO THE EDITORS

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

On behalf of the organizers of and participants in the protests during Junior Parents' Weekend, I am writing to respond to the staff editorial, "Weekend Protest Was Half-Hearted, III-timed " (March 7, 1994.) The editorial, based on inaccuracies and falsehoods, misrepresents us and the goals of our protest to the Harvard community.

To begin, the editorial suggests that the protest was disruptive, yet offers no evidence to support this claim. Willfully tossing out phrases like "their rally detracted from the weekend's events" and "it was unfortunate that it had to conflict with several speakers," the editorial never clearly explains how we inhibited the functioning of Junior Parents Weekend.

For truly, we in no way disrupted the weekend's events, taking care to keep our audible protest limited to the area outside the Science Center to peacefully hand out leaflets, request signatures and hold up signs. We took the additional step of asking permission from Director of the Parents' Association Ellen Towne and Dean of Students Archie Epps. Even Parents Weekend co-coordinator Richard Gardner '95 could not deny the effectiveness of our precautions, stating (as quoted in another article of the same Crimson issue), "While I would prefer that the protest wouldn't have happened, things did turn out okay in the end....The two events did coexist peacefully." Moreover, a majority of the parents seemed far from disturbed by our rally, instead praising us for our "rational approach" and "Proactive efforts." As another Crimson article revealed (March 7, 1944), one visiting parent, David Wizansky '60, stated that we "succeeded in drawing [his] attention and support." Raising the awareness of parents in this way, we achieved one of the goals of our protest, a goal of educating parents and students about the sad state of ethnic studies and minority faculty ratios at Harvard.

This educative goal mirrored the broad aims of last year's protest, which, contrary to the editorial's assertion, went far beyond criticizing the omission of Asian-Americans on the Parents Weekend panels. Although this omission may have catalyzed last year's protest, it was far from being the protest's only concern.

The educative goal was also part of the reason why we chose Junior Parents Weekend as a forum for our grievances, the choice reflecting our hope that by alerting the parents to the facts of our situation, we might enlist their influential support. Parent Donna C. Albert put it well, stating, "I thinking they [protesting students] realize that change comes through parents." Ismuk Choi, another parent, told The Crimson that the protests has inspired his plans to write a letter to President Rudenstine "supporting ethnic studies and a more diversified faculty."

We also received over 500 signatures, including that of the professor of Sociology 60 ("Race and Ethnicity in America"), in endorsement of our cause. With such positive reactions and effective results, the editorial's criticism that the weekend was an "inappropriate forum" for our protest proves weak and unfounded.

Regarding the "slice of college life" that the editorial suggested we usurped, we feel that rather than obscuring parental experience of college life, our protests only served to enhance their visiting experience, demonstrating to them that the activism of college students who care deeply about an issue is not yet dead.

The editorial is also wrong in its characterization of the protest as "half-hearted." The devotion by busy students of two weekend days to the active expression of their grievance and an attempt to educate their parents and peers seems far from half-hearted.

While we concede that it might have been planned earlier than a few days before Parents Weekend, the two days of protest still reflected many preceding hours of planning and heated argument over how to best carry out the protest, refuting Richard Gardner's claim that it was "a very last-second sort of thing." (Indeed, last year's protest, decided the night before, was much more "last-second.")

Furthermore, the assertion that "the students haven't done much until now" displays the editorial board's ignorance of the fact that minority student leaders have been meeting regularly and have exchanged letters with Dean Knowles requesting information about the minority faculty hiring process and the Visiting Scholars Program. The weekend's protest thus reflected a culmination of a semester of inter-group cooperation and low profile activism, hardly the hasty, half-baked production the editorial paints it to be. Perhaps most disturbing is the editorial's assertion that "the protesters should, if anything, be pleased with certain recent events." Implicit in this statement is the suggestion that with the hiring of the eminent Princeton professor Cornel West '74, the battle has been won, that the University's dearth of minority faculty has been magically alleviated by the advent of this single man, that we should be appeased and shut up and go home.

This sort of narrow-minded thinking merely affirms further our decision to protest. We organizers feared that in allowing the anniversary of last year's Junior Parents Weekend protest go by in silence and passivity, we would in effect be signaling to the administration that we were indeed appeased--the position and editorial seems to suggest we take--and we are not. While we applaud the hiring of West, we have a hard time seeing how his appointment will serve the Harvard student who is interested in Asian-American history or Native-American literature. We still feel that there is much room for improvement, particularly in fields outside Afro-American Studies and for other underrepresented minorities. We would like to see "remarkable" appointments similar to West's of Latino or Native-American senior faculty, of which there are currently none at the University. Finally, the editorial's claim that as a result of last year's protests, "this year Harvard is offering ethnic studies as a special concentration for undergraduates," is a gross distortion.

It has always been possible to have a special concentration in ethnic studies, just as one can have a special concentration in any subject (pending approval) that one chooses to pursue, from computer music to ethnobotany. This possibility to design one's own ethnic studies concentration is nothing new, let alone a direct result of last year's protests.

The editorial makes it sound as though the University has made great strides with granting of this special concentration, when in fact, with regard to this and other ethnic studies concerns, the University has made few substantive gains since last year.

Filled with inaccuracies and distortions, the editorial irresponsibly perpetuates falsehoods that not only harm the organization and individuals it misrepresents, but also confuses and misleads the Harvard community at large.

We suggest that in the future, the editors do their homework before maligning the efforts of fellow students who are only seeking to enhance our educational experience through increased diversity in our faculty and curriculum.

Even more importantly, we hope that the editors will take precautions against the spirit of smallmindedness that the editorial embodies and perpetuates. Perhaps in the future, they will learn that instead of quibbling over whether there are zero or one African-American female professors at Harvard, the question we should really be asking is whether one American female professor is anywhere near enough. Jean Tom '96   co-chair, Minority Student Alliance

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