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READER REPRESENTATIVE

By Shawn Zeller

For anyone who has read The Crimson so far this year, one thing that was hard to miss was the full-page letter which ran every day from Sept. 17 through 20 titled, "Toward A More Diverse Newspaper." The letter, which admitted that The Crimson has a decidedly un-diverse staff, is part of an attempt by the paper to recruit and retain minority and female writers. The letter was co-signed by Todd F. Braunstein '97, The Crimson's president, and The Crimson's two diversity co-chairs, Victoria E.M. Cain '97 and Corinne E. Funk '97.

Indeed, the figures cry out for an explanation. The Crimson executives number 52. One of them is black. One is Hispanic. Two are Asian.

The history is not much better. The Crimson staff has been decidedly undiverse as far as most can remember, and in some instances, the paper has openly battled with minorities on campus.

In 1992, black students postered around campus attacking what they perceived to be a "Harvard Plantation" mentality. One of the groups cited for being unaccommodating to black voices on campus was The Harvard Crimson.

Last spring, after a student protest in Moral Reasoning 13, "Realism and Moralism," taught by Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53, regarding Mansfield's criticisms of President Neil Rudenstine's "Diversity Report," The Crimson ran an editorial condemning the protest for invading the sanctity of the classroom. Letters from the involved black students flooded into the paper accusing The Crimson of misplacing their criticisms.

Around the same time, a Crimson reporter referred to the traditional Korean music performed at an ethnic studies rally as "banging on drums and metal lids." An astute reader complained that such a description seemed like an anthropological description of a Martian ritual and not a celebration of the heritage of Harvard's Korean-Americans.

Finally, just a few days ago, after The Crimson ran a front page story about a study by two undergraduates on the racial compositions in the Houses, Hispanic students erupted over what they perceived to be the validation of a flawed study. The study did not account for Hispanic students in its calculations, classifying students by looking at their facebook pictures as white, black or Asian.

On Monday, I talked with Victoria Cain about the new effort. She explained that the present recruitment effort is just one facet of a larger program to make The Crimson a paper capable of representing the entire Harvard community.

The plan that Cain and her co-chair Corinne Funk developed includes both an outreach program to attract minority and women compers and an effort to retain the new compers once they've started work. In addition to the aforementioned letter, the paper has sent out a letter to all minority and women's organizations on campus explaining the way the paper operates. Included was information about dealing with reporters, ensuring the correctness of quotations, pitching stories and registering complaints. Also planned are one-on-one meetings between Crimson executives and the heads of ethnic and women's organizations.

In addition, The Crimson plans to bring in an outside consultant to discuss sensitivity issues with reporters and has restructured the comp, requiring compers to attend seminars on covering sensitive topics related to race, gender and ethnicity.

I, as reader representative, have often complained that The Crimson is too slow to apologize when it goofs up and too concerned with putting up a diplomatic front when an apology would be more credible. Having heard totally different stories "on the record" than I heard "off the record" on several occasions, I thought "Wow, this time The Crimson is actually admitting they have a problem. This is a good thing."

But not being a fan of militant political correctness, I wondered if The Crimson was going too far. If sensitivity sessions and considered changes to the bylaws on sexual and racial harassment would make The Crimson into a haven for the politically correct, I wondered if The Crimson would resort to assigning stories based on race and ethnicity--if only black reporters would cover black issues and if only women reporters would cover Radcliffe.

I was impressed with Cain's honesty and straightforwardness. I tried to lead her into my little traps, asking, "Don't you think it would be a good idea to let ethnic reporters report ethnic stories?" and "Wouldn't a speech code in the building be a good idea?" To her credit, Cain didn't buy it. Experience will matter more than race in assigning sensitive stories, and in-building squabbles will be solved by mediation, not speech codes, she said.

Reviewing this policy, then, has not been hard for me. This program is a good one I urge minority and female students to recognize that The Crimson is genuinely committed to them and that things will change...with their help.

Shawn C. Zeller '97 is The Crimson's reader representative, or ombudsperson. He may be reached at szeller@fas or at home at 493-1270.

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