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Shades of Crimson

By Monica M. Clark

This is the seat of the most powerful government in the world, in one of the most diverse nations in the world, but the press corps doesn’t come even close to reflecting what America looks like.” Ernest R. Sotomayor—president of the organization for journalists of color, UNITY—said this of the Washington press corps. Although Harvard is not the most diverse school in the world, its students represent almost all ethnic backgrounds, but unfortunately The Harvard Crimson, like the Washington papers, does not reflect the diversity of the community it serves. The nation is evolving into one in which most of its residents are non-white, and with it, Harvard evolves as well. But without a more diverse staff, it is impossible for the paper to initiate conversation about all of the important issues that surround minority communities. Journalists of color bring different and crucial perspective to their articles. As a Crimson editor, I think it is important to begin actively recruiting minority students to comp The Crimson.

This past summer UNITY released a six-month study on diversity in the Washington press with the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. According to the census, less than ten percent of journalists in the Washington daily newspapers press corps are of color. It revealed a mere portion of a national trend of racial disparities among influential newspapers, one that The Harvard Crimson follows. Of the few hundred active editors that compose The Crimson’s nine boards, fewer than twenty are black or Hispanic. Asian students fare better, holding approximately forty positions as editors. A more thorough accounting of the racial breakdown of all the boards of The Crimson has not been conducted; however it is safe to say that the staff is nowhere near representative of the broader community.

These low numbers do a huge disservice to The Crimson and ethnic groups on campus alike. They harm the relationships between the two and as a result, opportunities are missed. For example, the UNITY organization that conducted the survey hosts a national conference each summer for all journalists of color that is open to both professionals and students. It is a wonderful opportunity to create valuable contacts, and this past summer it included speeches by both President Bush and presidential candidate John Kerry. Not a single Crimson staff member was in attendance. Perhaps if there were more minorities on staff, someone would have attended.

Furthermore, certain issues and events that have had profound effects on certain ethnic groups have gone uncovered because people on The Crimson’s staff had a different perspective on their magnitude. Such a situation occurred last year when the Latino and Latin American show Presencia Latina did not receive sufficient coverage in The Crimson. The President of Fuerza, Felipe Tewes, labeled the show, which included a tremendous amount of involvement by Latino students and faculty, as the biggest of its kind in Harvard’s history. The Crimson ran only a picture from the show, which was held on a weekend, in its Friday Arts section. The Latino community was deeply hurt by the decision, which could be prevented in the future if more Latino students joined The Crimson’s staff.

No one party is to blame. The racial disparities on The Crimson’s staff are the result of both the history of The Crimson and of ethnic groups on campus. This op-ed is an appeal to all of these organizations—The Crimson included—to begin actively trying to eliminate these inequities. When more students who are passionate about the issues dearest to black and Latino communities join The Crimson, the entire Harvard community will notice a significant change in the type of coverage ethnic groups receive. The UNITY study includes a suggestion toward creating a more diverse staff that The Crimson should seriously consider. It calls for papers to put a premium on diversity and establish a long-term goal and commitment to increasing minority representation on its staff. This should not be a numeric goal, but the paper should come up with creative incentives for the chairs of boards to diversify its staff.

But The Crimson cannot decrease the disparities alone. Unfortunately, in the past, controversies such as that over Presencia Latina have caused upperclassmen to tell black and Latino freshmen and sophomores that The Crimson is an organization that does not support them, consequently discouraging them to join. This negative word of mouth needs to stop. Ethnic organizations on campus need to be dedicated and cooperative toward developing a working, healthy relationship with The Crimson, and they should seriously consider how the paper can serve as a valuable tool for their communities.

Each of the numerous ethnic groups on campus, along with The Harvard Crimson, should view tonight’s first-ever “Diversity Open House” as a chance to begin actively working together to decrease the racial disparities on The Crimson. All parties will have the opportunity to speak frankly with one another and to learn from Columbia professor, Arlene Morgan, an expert on diversity in newspapers.

It is time to make a commitment toward printing a truly complete and accurate newspaper. “It can be done. We need to do it now.” UNITY members wrote—let’s follow their lead.

Monica M. Clark ’06, a Crimson editor, is a history and literature concentrator in Currier House.The Diversity Open House will take place tonight at 7 p.m. at The Crimson.

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