Shaking Things Up

This column is especially for minority first-year readers. First-years are probably not aware that The Crimson has often come under attack for racial bias in its reporting and staff editorials concerning minority students.

This newspaper is frequently criticized by members of the Harvard community, but some of our most vehement critics have been minority students and their organizations. Some people I know consider The Crimson to be an intolerant, bigoted institution.

During my two years here, as a Black Crimson editor, sometimes I have seen bias on our pages. But I believe that a close examination of our record will prove that The Crimson (for a predominantly white institution) has generally treated minority issues with fairness and respect, with some notable exceptions.

And compared to other campus publications, this paper looks even better. The Perspective (bastion of bleeding heart liberalism), the Salient (mouthpiece for conservative self-righteous venom), and the Peninsula (a seething brew of libertarian, fundamentalist, and fascist viewpoints), are often either condescending, ignorant, or outright offensive on racial issues.

But let's suppose that our carping critics are right. What if The Crimson is a racist publication, and not even worth the paper it is printed on--sort of like the New York Post?

So what? The Crimson is, most importantly, an open institution. You don't have to have any particular ideological persuasion to join. You don't have to agree with the pro-business, anti-public health and safety agenda of Newt Gingrich and his shameless minions in the new Republican Congress.

You don't have to believe that immigration and affirmative action are the greatest threats to our nation's continued prosperity. You don't have to commit yourself to aiding the proletariat in their inevitable overthrow of capitalism. You don't have to be white to join. All you have to do is complete the comp.

The comp, despite the odd-sounding name, is a rather painless process on the news and editorial boards. Basically, you attend a few instructional meetings (sometimes led by Pulitzer Prize winning authors) and write a few pieces. When you finish your comp, you become an editor for life and your writing skills will probably be much improved. You also get to help shape the staff editorials, the unsigned pieces on the leftmost column of this page.

Ideally, journalists would be perfectly objective and always even-handed in their coverage of different ethnic groups. But realistically, journalists are apt to add their own personal biases and unfounded notions to their work, whether consciously or unwittingly.

And more sensitivity training or braying about diversity will not improve The Crimson. What this paper desperately needs is more minority representation. Black and Hispanic writers are especially needed. As far as I know, I am one of only a handful of Black writers at The Crimson this semester.

If you're thinking of comping, don't be scared away by rumors that The Crimson does not provide a comfortable environment for minorities. While The Crimson may have its odd rituals, none of them involve wearing sheets and pointy hats or burning crosses.

Even people who may not agree with you will treat you with respect. Therefore, there is really no good excuse to merely bemoan bias at The Crimson. If you don't like what you are reading, join the paper and shake things up--don't just complain.

Thankfully, some aspects of The Crimson will probably never change. For example, the editorial page (excluding staff editorials and regular columns) will continue to serve as a forum for every conceivable viewpoint.

Last year, some of the most significant campus debates took place on this page. Some writers used their editorials to allege that Blacks are genetically inferior. Others used this space to expose the Contract On America as warmed-over Reaganomics (yours truly).

If The Crimson continues its better traditions, but with some fresh faces and new ideas, it will remain one of the nation's finest college newspapers.

David W. Brown's column appears on alternate Wednesdays.