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When he first got to the Graduate School of Education (GSE) three years ago, doctoral student Frank Tuitt says he didn't feel like he belonged at Harvard.
Comparing his experience to being "a guest in somebody else's house," Tuitt, who is black, shared that he sometimes didn't consider himself a "real" student and would often deny his own ethnicity in an attempt to fit in.
"In general, being a guest meant that I was allowed to be at Harvard, but only if I was quiet," he stated.
Tuitt's experience was only one of several that were shared last night in front of hundreds gathered at Askwith Lecture Hall during a forum designed to discuss diversity at the GSE and to introduce a student-produced anthology devoted to the topic.
"Meet us at the River: An Anthology in Progress," is a compilation of essays, poetry and art composed by 41 alumni and students of the education school. The anthology was the brainchild of current GSE students Ana Tavares and Rebeca Burciaga.
In addition to the personal experiences shared by the contributors of "Meet Us at the River," the forum featured speakers including Associate Dean Of Program Development Darryl Smaw, Assistant Professor of Education Eileen de los Reyes and Fletcher University Professor Cornel West '74.
De los Reyes spoke of the importance of hope and faith in the struggle for respect and diversity and went on to praise the anthology for airing issues that she said often go unmentioned.
"Without hope and faith, difficult questions will not be asked...hopelessness will paralyze us," she said.
West also echoed the need for diversity, stating that the anthology injected a "blue note" of much needed "dissonance" into the Harvard community.
"At its founding, Harvard was not created for many of the people who are here now," West said.
West went on to praise the "the best of Harvard tradition"--what he described as the University's history of admitting minority students that Harvard's founders never envisioned among the University's students.
Diversity has long been a topic of discussion and debate at the GSE. Last May, more than 150 students protested before a faculty meeting, calling on the education school to do more to diversify the student body, its faculty and curriculum.
Specifically, students called for greater freedom of information on admissions and faculty hiring practices, funding for special retreats and conferences addressing diversity at the GSE and a new staff position whose duties focus specifically on diversity.
Yesterday's forum was a continuation of this discussion, organizers said.
Following the forum's speakers, a group of eight alumni and students read their pieces from the anthology.
While the editors said their book features a host of voices and experiences that are often overlooked in institutions of higher learning, they also conceded that not everyone was represented in the anthology.
When asked by an audience member why the anthology did not include any pieces about being gay or lesbian at Harvard, Tavares and Burciaga said they did not intend for the anthology to be a finished product.
They explained that they titled it as being "in progress" for that reason.
"Our hope is that this work becomes cyclical; that the dialogue and critical analysis within these pages inspires you to carve out a space and build upon the work we have begun," Tavares and Burciaga write in the anthology's introduction.
As for Frank Truitt, in reading from anthology, he explained to yesterday's audience that he has since revised his perspective and become "a different kind of guest."
"I've adopted the philosophy that, if by the end of my stay here, I'm supposed to be a different person than when I entered," he asked, "shouldn't Harvard be a different kind of place when I leave?"
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