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Students in Eliot House said they were offended when Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 critiqued sex at Harvard during a keynote speech at a faculty dinner Tuesday.
Many students, who had been expecting a talk on student-faculty relations, were shocked when Mansfield said that he wanted to speak about something “very uncontroversial”—sex among undergraduates—according to House Committee (HoCo) secretary Anna R. Himmelrich ’05.
“I don’t think anyone was expecting to hear anything so opinionated,” Himmelrich said.
Students said they were offended when Mansfield said the only gentlemen left were either gay or conservative.
“If I was a gay man I’d be offended,” said Rebecca Goetz, a fourth year graduate student in history who attended the speech as a guest of an Eliot undergraduate.
Other students, however, said they found the speech insightful and provocative.
“I thought it was a treat,” said Eliot House resident Andrew B. Pacelli ’04. “I think the speech was sensible and well-reasoned.”
Pacelli said he thought Mansfield believed in equality for men and women and was accurately describing a relevant social phenomenon.
Mansfield said he stressed during his speech that both positive and negative changes have occurred in undergraduate love lives.
“[The speech] was an assessment of the sexual scene at Harvard today by comparison to what I lived through fifty years ago,” said Mansfield. “Women and men see each other each day, study together and eat together. These things are improvements.”
He criticized, however, the increase in recreational sex.
Through recreational sex, he said, women were giving out “free samples.”
“I expect there is a lot of recreational sex and so the sexual scene is more favorable to men than it used to be,” Mansfield said in an interview yesterday. “It’s a men’s game they’re playing.”
Mansfield included this remark, which some called offensive, in his speech Tuesday.
“I found that offensive because of the stereotype and the implication that somehow women are trying to be more like men by having free sexual expression,” Alithea D. Gabrellas ’06 said.
Whether they agreed or disagreed with Mansfield’s message, the students said the speech was not something that they had expected.
“Most people seemed to take it pretty much in stride. It was a titillating surprise more than anything else,” Himmelrich said.
Mansfield, who delivered his ten minute address at the behest of House master Lino Pertile, professor of Romance languages and literature, said that he received several e-mails from questioners after the speech and indicated that he was happy to read them.
“I was trying to widen and deepen the boundaries of discussion at Harvard,” he said. “I wanted to give an example of an unpolitically correct talk.”
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