Foundation to Receive Increased Role, But Critics Question Its Approach

Early in March, two interns of the Harvard Foundation for Race and Inter-cultural Relations came up with a way to have a no-holds-barred dialogue about Cultural Rhythms, the Foundation-sponsored performance festival that had elicited criticism from some campus leaders. Bar Foundation officials and make it students-only, they decided, so that everyone would feel free to speak about their concerns. But the Lowell House dinner meeting had an unexpected guest--Foundation Student Activities Coordinator Nana E. Coleman '98.


"I also am a student myself," says Coleman, who attends the Graduate School of Education. "As student activities coordinator, my role is to work with students and to assist them in planning their programs."

But former Diversity & Distinction Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey A. Fowler '00, who attended the event, says Coleman used the occasion to rebut and reject criticism of Cultural Rhythms.

"Nana Coleman came and very much dominated the discussion and prevented it from being a productive discussion environment," says Fowler, who is also a Crimson executive.


After Coleman left, frustrated students, including Fowler, gathered around the table and discussed the festival--and what some saw as just another example of the Foundation's defensiveness in the face of criticism. Now, months after the meeting, some of this year's members of the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) say they feel the Foundation has remained defensive rather than responsive to student concerns and ought to take steps to explore the issue of race on a more serious level.

SAC co-chair Michael K. T. Tan '01 resigned from his position yesterday as an expression of frustration with these issues. Tan says structural difficulties and the Foundation's status as a University body hampers its effectiveness.

"It's not an organization that's particularly critical about race," says Tan, who was also a paid Foundation intern. "There's only so much one-shot events can do...I don't see the administration being committed in any systematic way to looking at race at Harvard," he adds.

Tan's resignation comes at a time when the Foundation is expected to shoulder a greater burden in race relations on campus, according to Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68. In July, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III will step down from his post of 30 years, where he has often served as a guiding force incampus race relations.

The Foundation's assumption of increasedresponsibility comes at a time when a number ofstudents would like it to change its ways.

'People Magazine' Approach

But while most beneficiaries appreciate theFoundation's support--around 150 race-relatedprojects received sponsorship this year--and enjoymeeting the big names the organization canattract, some students who have worked with theFoundation say events like Cultural Rhythms do notreally promote understanding or change.

"It's the People magazine approach to racerelations," says Fowler, who is scheduled to meetnext week with College administrators, includingFoundation Director S. Allen Counter, to presenthis concerns.

Although the Foundation draws crowds toCultural Rhythms with marquee stars like actorsWill Smith and Halle Berry, it has shied away fromcontentious topics like ethnic studies,affirmative action and calls for a multiculturalstudent center.

Counter says these events do not fit with theorganization's mission.

"The Harvard Foundation is not a politicalorganization, and should not be expected to fillthat role," he wrote in an e-mail message.

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