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Lowell House List Posts Show Need for Tolerance

Letter to the editor

By Michelle Kuo, C. DUANE Meat, and Najah S. Waters

To the editors:

On Feb. 26, a member of the Lowell House community sent a long tirade, over the House list, which relegated the daily Black history month facts that a fellow member of the Lowell House community had been sending over the House e-mail list to “blatant spam,” “complete and utter spam” and messages that are “tangentially related” to the Lowell House community (News, “Accusations Fly in Debate Over Use of Lowell Open,” March 3). This e-mail was followed by other students’ postings that further conveyed their aggravation at receiving a fact each day over the course of the month.

It would be one thing if the students challenged the content of any one of these e-mails. These were e-mails that articulated a diverse range of topics, from the decrepit state of public schools to the state of American prisons to kingdoms in Africa. Instead, the students questioned the very presence of these e-mails in their inbox.

We would perhaps sympathize with their views if Lowell Open were a sacred, rigidly moderated space. But on any given day, the Lowell Open list is flooded with some 30 e-mails, featuring one-line banter between two people, furious debates over the merits of Macs vs. PC, announcements for various student groups, mice spottings and other such gems. The Black History month e-mails constitute 6 percent of the total e-mails sent over Lowell open in the month of February. It is hard to fathom why Black History month e-mails, and not anything else, would be considered “spam.”

This incident reveals how some students still have trouble understanding what it means to live in a community. We are not trying to unearth a racist conspiracy. However, we are saying that some students do not pause to reflect on how they must invest themselves in the underlying goal of any community: to appreciate that no one experience is “tangential.” In many ways, Cultural Rhythms, Randomization and other diversity initiatives fulfill the terms that the student has prescribed. But it is disappointing that some students do not appreciate the other ways that members of their community attempt to go beyond the significantly Western European history and culture. In a time when even the faculty/administration composition is largely unsuccessful in representing the goal of a diverse Harvard community, it is disappointing that students would be outraged by a grand total of 28 e-mails.

Black history e-mails are one small step in a broad attempt to create a sensitive, multicultural community. Part of the purpose of House open lists and other discussion forums is to encourage people to think in new ways. How will this happen if the very legitimacy of such e-mails is in question?

Black history is American history, and it is tangential to your life only if you deem it so. Students of color are tangential only if you decide that their experiences, attitudes and concerns have no bearing on the way you choose to think and live.

Najah S. Waters ’03

Michelle Kuo ’03

C. Duane Meat ’03

March 3, 2003

The writers are residents of Lowell House. C. Duane Meat ’03 is Co-Chair of the Student Advisory Council of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. Their sentiments represent those of the Association of Black Harvard Women, the Black Men’s Forum, Fuerza Latina, Multicultural Issues Forum and Native Americans at Harvard College.

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