Harvard Foundation is Misunderstood by Critics

To the editors:

Racism and prejudice are real at Harvard. For over 25 years, however, the staff of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations has worked to resist this regrettable fact by taking positive action to promote tolerance on campus. Because an individual student’s memory of Harvard tends to encapsulate only four years, few are aware of the racial tension of the recent past and the Foundation’s role in ameliorating it. Through a wide range of events, the Foundation has not only helped to create a safe place for students of all backgrounds, but also it has helped to facilitate understanding through dialogue—a process that we hope has resulted in the bridging of differences through a realization of commonality.

The Foundation’s response to the Quad incident was no different. While we all have our individual beliefs as to whether or not racism was at play in this incident, the presence of racism or its lack thereof does not matter at this point. When a segment of the student population is made to feel that they do not belong, we all have a problem. As a result, the Foundation initially responded by hosting discussions through both the Currier and Cabot House race relations tutors. In addition, the Foundation supports the “I Am Harvard” Campaign, which will continue to address the lack of belonging felt by many in Harvard’s black and other minority communities.

Because the Foundation is a supportive entity, its initiatives and system of support remains generally unnoticed, except by those parties involved. However, when media controversy arises, the Foundation’s policies and initiatives may become misconstrued from a lack of fully understanding the Foundation’s mission. This occurred in two articles published in the Crimson this week: Monday’s “Dishonest Discourse” (column, May 21) by Lucy M. Caldwell ’09 and Wednesday’s “Dr. Counter Should Apologize” (op-ed, May 21) by Adam Goldenberg ’08 and Sahil K. Mahtani ’08.

These two pieces are neither factual nor constructive to the current problems that have resulted from the Quad incident. False out-of-context attacks against Harvard Foundation Director S. Allen Counter and the Foundation only serve to distract from the issue at hand. Further, the articles border on blatant disrespect for both the students affected by the incident and Counter, a man whose dedication to many student groups and individual students acknowledge has contributed to their respect, legitimacy and existence on campus. These two articles are lacking in their journalistic integrity; but worse, they are also lacking in their humanistic integrity for genuine respect for all of those on Harvard’s campus.

In both editorials, the simplistic depiction of the Quad incident is strikingly contradicted by the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) log and e-mail archives, which indicate that the disturbance posed by the student members of the Association of Black Harvard Women and the Black Men’s Forum was not a mere noise issue. First, the Cabot students assumed their black peers—black students who were wearing Harvard apparel and who are leaders of many prominent organizations on campus—to not be members of Harvard. Second, HUPD acted on this incorrect assumption by demanding identification and authorization of the students’ right to utilize their lawn. If this were simply a noise complaint, ID would not have been required.

While the comparison of HUPD tactics to racialized policing during Apartheid may be imperfect, the metaphor is apt: students who are routinely subject to identification checks regard their treatment on the Quad lawn as a harsh reminder that, by some, they are not viewed as being part of this community. In fact, in the wake of the incident many black alumni have cited similar trends of excessive scrutiny from HUPD, resident tutors, and their peers. Even faculty members have been subject to similar treatment because of their race. The two aforementioned editorials completely disregarded—and therefore trivialized—these accompanying facts.

We invite leaders of this community, especially the chair of the College Events Board and The Crimson’s director of recruitment, positions held by Goldenberg and Mahtani, respectively, to join us at the Foundation to learn more about the history of race at Harvard and to share their sentiments.

We look forward to bringing our peers together through constructive dialogue in the future, for those who refuse to engage in real-life dialogue on the basis of presumed foreignness only shun the opportunity to broaden their perspectives and learn from their fellow students—and that’s the honest truth.

Cambridge, Mass.
May 23, 2007

The writers are interns at the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.