West Returns to Harvard, Joins Afro-Am Dream Team

Cornel R. West '74 is an icon. Three-piece suit. Starched shirt. Cufflinks. Full Afro. Limbs in motion, head thrown back, fist raised in the air. A sharp-dressed man, from top to bottom.

West looks the part. One of the country's most respected authorities on race relations, religion and philosophy, an impassioned and sought-after speaker, and the author of 13 books, West is sharp.

Twenty years after his graduation, West returned to Harvard, where he has since assumed the roles of professor of Afro-American studies, professor of the philosophy of religion, and Fletcher University professor, one of only 19 such posts for the entire Faculty. He stars on the "dream team" of the Department of Afro-American Studies, arguably the greatest collection of black intellectual talent in the world.

"There's no one like him," says Du Bois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr., who serves as the chair of the Afro-American studies department. "He's a brilliant philosopher. He possesses a keen analytical mind, and he is blessed woratory. I know no on else my who combines this set talents."

West's intellectual ability is universally acknowledged. But what friends, colleagues and students also note about West is his accessibility, his genuine compassion and his respect for all people, regardless of status or intellectual fortitude.


"Cornel makes me run faster and work harder," Gates says. "He's an inspiration to me and I love him like a brother."

West Heads East

West attended Harvard at a time of great upheaval, on campus and in society. Born on June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, Okla., West grew up in Sacramento, Calif., and attended John F. Kennedy High School before heading to New England.

West arrived at Harvard one year after the 1969 takeover of University Hall and the establishment of the Afro-Americanstudies department, and at the height of the BlackPower movement and the Vietnam War.

His admission in 1970 marked one of the firstgreat waves of African-American students.

"All of a sudden you had double, triple orquadruple the number of black students on campusthan the year before," says Senior AdmissionsOfficer David L. Evans.

The influx of large numbers of African-Americanstudents sparked campus-wide controversy,including allegations of relaxed admissionsstandards for black students.

"I think it's fair to say that the increasingenrollment of black students in these early dayswas accompanied by doubts about their academicability because observers thought that theUniversity was responding to pressure and notadmitting people on the basis of merit," says Deanof Students Archie C. Epps III, who was thenserving as a resident tutor in Leverett House.

But West's own academic career refuted anyallegations of intellectual inferiority.

He graduated with a magna cum laude degree inNear Eastern Studies in 1973, after only threeyears of study and without accepting advancedstanding.

According to Robert J. Gerrard Jr. '74--whoroomed with West in Mather House in his junior,and final, year at Harvard--West took eightcourses in the fall of that year and six in thespring.

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