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Diversity & Discomfort

By Jannie S. Tsuei

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with The Crimson.

I came to college believing that I really wanted to devote myself to this newspaper, to the grand enterprise of student journalism. My first few times in the building were somewhat awkward, but certainly no more so than any other freshman fall experience.

But then I noticed that I didn’t feel quite comfortable in Fifteen Minutes (FM) meetings. I didn’t feel entirely at home at 14 Plympton Street, even as the other Crimson freshmen began to cluster into social groups.

It dawned upon me that I had very little in common with many of the people I had met at The Crimson. College was big, bad, and overwhelming, and thus most of my peers were searching for people who were like them, with whom they could create a niche. It makes sense, after all—there is a feeling of comfort in being understood intuitively, in not having to explain the basic tenets by which one lives.

But I had plopped myself into an extracurricular with a predominantly white staff. And no matter how cosmopolitan Harvard students may fancy themselves, they generally were not conversant with my favorite Taiwanese movies, poetry, and martial arts novels. In addition, while the busy newsroom was a frightening place for most compers, the discomfort I felt was compounded when I walked in and saw no one who looked like me. These racial and cultural differences weren’t the only reason I didn’t find an insta-home, but they certainly played their role.

But stubborn, obstinate, and still loving the fact that FM published amazing stories, I held on, finishing my comp, and, three years after my first Crimson encounter, landed the position of magazine co-chair. I still did not feel quite at home, but it was going to work out, I thought, and, as it turned out, I wasn’t completely wrong. I loved that year with the magazine. The many nights spent with my fellow executives discussing story ideas, editing articles, and producing the magazine made for great discussions and gave me treasured friends.

However, this was also the year that I became most aware of how my different background and perspective marked me. It’s not that my fellow executives always disagreed radically with me about the need for social diversity in our selection of people to profile, the importance of racial diversity in our cover photo shoots, and the need to avoid making judgments about what lifestyles and knowledge were normative. With a few exceptions, the other execs mostly agreed. But, also with few exceptions, I was the person who pointed out these issues and passionately pushed for more accurate coverage.

I don’t mean to insinuate that our staff is biased—my intellectual passion for issues of diversity certainly contributed to my sensitivity to these issues and role as an advocate for them. However, as someone who was often different from the majority—religiously, ethnically, culturally, and socially—I was more often forced to be aware of disparities, merely by the fact that I felt a bit out of place. In fact, I had many moments of cultural ignorance and blindness as well.

Both my feeling that I was more aware of certain issues because the sense of being different was forced upon me, and my feeling that I, like everyone else, had blind spots, reinforced my belief that The Crimson needs to have a diverse staff. As a newspaper, The Crimson ought to strive for coverage that is nuanced, accurate, and reflective of the concerns of the student body. And no matter how hard we try, such coverage is difficult when the staff is collectively unfamiliar with certain sectors of the student body.

At the same time, as a student newspaper, The Crimson is uniquely positioned to provide a venue for discussion of important social issues. United by a desire to publish truthful, insightful, and interesting stories, a group of students who are otherwise diverse can come together in discussion and argument, whether it be a casual newsroom discussion about global politics or a debate on the subjectivity of beauty in the course of choosing the Fifteen Hottest Freshmen. The more diverse the people who make up this organization, the better our discussions can be.

I, too, have changed my mind, and sometimes managed to change my ways, because of encounters—intellectual, emotional, or otherwise—with my peers at The Crimson. It has been one of the most important places of learning during my four years, mostly because I was so often exposed to different perspectives. It was scary at times, but ultimately a beautiful thing to be outside of my comfort zone so often.

I am leaving college without really knowing what I’ll be doing in 2007 and still uncertain whether I’ve changed for the better. But I know I’ve allowed myself the opportunities for deep change. And I love The Crimson for providing that.

Jannie S. Tsuei ’06, who was a Crimson magazine chair in 2005, is a literature concentrator in Quincy House.

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