The Harvard Foundation’s annual Student and Faculty Awards Dinner, which honors students and professors who have worked towards cultural understanding and unity, had a special tone last night, as outgoing Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 was lauded by speakers for his contribution to student life.
In accepting his award, Lewis said last night that Harvard must be careful to strike an appropriate balance between diversity and unity to avoid becoming “a pureed politically correct soup.”
He warned that the efforts to achieve tolerance towards racial and ethnic minorities sometimes leaves others open to criticism—but added that Harvard has not succumbed to this tendency.
“On many college campuses, athletes are the last group that is safe to stereotype,” he said. “We just don’t do that here.”
The Foundation, founded in 1981, also presented the Distinguished Senior Award to seven members of the class of 2003 at last night’s ceremony, which was held in Quincy Dining Hall.
The Foundation presented awards to 16 other undergraduates, most of them seniors, for their contributions to campus multiculturalism.
An additional 16 undergraduates, mostly first-years and sophomores, received Certificates of Recognition for promising beginnings in the field.
S. Allen Counter, director of the Foundation, said the annual dinner is important for acknowledging and celebrating the improvements Harvard has made in courting diversity.
“I credit the students who are making this the kind of environment that is harmonious,” Counter said.
David L. Evans, senior admissions officer and member of the Foundation’s Faculty Advisory Committee, said in his closing remarks that the freshman facebook serves as a “time-lapse photograph” for the progress Harvard has made in diversifying its student body.
“This college has not always been as it appears this evening,” Evans said.
Progress towards diversity will necessarily be slow, Evans said, but he encouraged the evening’s undergraduate honorees not to fear controversy.
“As my grandmother once said, it’s not wise to torch the house of evil when you can put a termite in there day by day,” Evans said.
Priscilla J. Orta ’05 and Clarence D. “Duane” Meat ’05 were the only two sophomores honored with Harvard Foundation Awards.
Orta, the president of RAZA, said she was surprised to receive an award that usually went only to juniors and seniors.
Winning as a sophomore, she said, raises expectations for next year.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” she said.
Though Counter said he credits the students, the evening also honored several Faculty members, including Lewis and the masters of Winthrop, Currier and Cabot Houses, who are all stepping down at the end of the academic year.
Winthrop House Master Paul D. Hanson, upon receiving a bouquet of red roses, said, “I feel like an opera singer.”
Counter said the Foundation recognizes the masters because without buildings on campus set aside to promote different cultures, the Houses play an essential role in promoting multiculturalism.
“We believe that every building at Harvard is a multicultural center,” he said.
Hanson said he appreciated the honors given to himself and to his fellow masters but felt that the “spotlight” was, appropriately, on Dean Lewis.
“Allen Counter is remarkably caring and sensitive so he acknowledges us, but I think the high point tonight was Harry Lewis,” Hanson said. “He received a genuine tribute that he was very much deserving of.”
Hanson, who received much criticism earlier this year for his support of a petition to divest from Israel, said he took “great comfort” in Lewis’s support of free speech.
“I think that the position I took was one that was totally supported by the spirit of the evening, that we are a community with diverse points of view that are enriched by the differences among us,” Hanson said. “I felt that my experience in the past year took a lot of encouragement from Dean Lewis’s words because he really described my philosophy of a University that is predicated both on constitutionally-guaranteed free speech and the sacred responsibility that we all have in maintaining academic freedom.”
Lewis made light of the impending end of his tenure as dean of the College.
Stepping down, he said, will allow him to be “politically incorrect” by showing favoritism to his former home as an undergraduate.
“As dean I have to love all Houses equally, but as ‘Professor Lewis,’ I can go back to saying the truth, which is that Quincy is the best house,” he said.
Lewis added that he has enjoyed rubbing elbows with the celebrity hosts of the annual Cultural Rhythms show, which have included Queen Latifah, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington. Seeing the movies those actors have starred in will be “a good project for my newfound free time,” he said.
Returning to a more serious note, Lewis praised the Foundation and its efforts to promote diversity.
“It’s a great institution that has provided me with many memorable moments,” he said.