Performance Disrespectful of Harvard Values

To the editors:

Re: “Undergrads ‘Reclaim the Yard,’” news, May 1:

I have a slightly different perspective to offer on the “success” of this past weekend’s festivities. Francisco Gonzalez is an Facilities and Maintenance Operations employee assigned to Memorial Church, where he works as a custodian and I work as both the college chaplain and the departmental administrator. Here was his experience of “Yardfest”: He was asked by the University to come to work on Sunday in order to help do whatever needed doing to support the event, which he did, happy to be involved in some small way.

So much was there to do that he was asked to stay until 5 p.m., and then until 8 p.m., at which point he very logically availed himself of the food offered in the Yard and came back to the Church—where he works, mind you—to have a moment of peace for a meal.

“One of the guys playing the piano asked me who the hell I was,” Francisco told me when I came into work this morning. “I told him I work here at the church. He said he didn’t want to see me. I told him I had to be there for work; my boss had told me to be there.”

“He told me to get out of his sight. All I wanted to do was eat my burrito in the work room.”

I add to this retelling a few salient facts. Mr. Gonzalez is one of the most dedicated and hardest-working people I have ever met at Harvard University, and that is an observation in which I include administrators, faculty, and students. He loves this place and feels honored to work here. He is a legal immigrant from El Salvador, a quiet man, and not at all one who would conceivably pose a threat to the safety or even serenity of the band invited here to help undergraduates “reclaim the Yard.”

It seems that the person making this intemperate request of him may not have been a member of the band, but rather one of the band’s “protectors.” I am delighted to say that Mr. Gonzalez’s solution to the problem was simply to request the man antagonizing him—whoever it was—to call the Harvard police if his presence posed such a terrible problem. And then he sat down and ate his burrito.

I was not aware that the Yard had somehow been taken away from undergraduates in Harvard College and thus in need of being reclaimed. If, however, the means by which that objective is accomplished relies on members of a band of musicians or their hired thugs who lack even a modicum of civility toward the people who actually make this place work for undergraduates (and all the rest of us), then I question the means by which that objective is being achieved.

Mr. Fold’s ave et vale, as reported by The Crimson, was the profound and prosaic “kiss my ass, kiss my ass goodbye.” This appears to also be an expression of the way in which his group and its associated support structures would treat the people in this place who have little power and less voice. And this is the banner under which undergraduates wish to “reclaim the Yard?”

One might consider an alternative idea—to imagine that the Yard does not need so much to be reclaimed as to be respected as a place in which the values Harvard claims are actually lived out. This is to suggest that the things undergraduates might learn within our gates are not merely academic, but ethical as well. I can report that this has always been on offer here, without requiring any reclaiming.


Cambridge, Mass.

May 1, 2006

The writer is Epps Fellow and Chaplain to Harvard College.