Waite Mischaractarizes Committee Members

To the editors:

As members of the committee that chose the readings for this past Freshman Orientation week, we fully understand that the process, however hard the committee members worked, is imperfect. Therefore, we appreciate constructive criticism that gives useful insight into how we may better discuss these issues. Unfortunately, in “Black Mischief,” (op-ed, Oct. 15) Roger Waite does not take this opportunity to constructively engage in a healthy debate; instead, he misses any opportunity to do so by flinging personal attacks and out-of-context quotes in light of a clearly undeveloped and unguided thesis.

Not focusing on the committee as a whole, Waite arbitrarily attacks members of the committee. Professor Matory is one of the most well-respected professors at Harvard, both among faculty and students, and has shown a firm commitment to open dialogue on all sides of issues, a philosophy which he brought to the committee with his insistence that the readings left space to address multiple aspects of privilege from a variety of viewpoints. Professor Counter shares this same commitment and has worked tirelessly for over a quarter of a century to make Harvard a more diverse and understanding community.

Mr. Waite misrepresents the character of these two individuals by taking each one of their quotes completely out of context. For example, attempting to paint Dr. Counter as anti-German for opposing the screening of a film that had graphic depictions of clitoridectomies performed on young girls, a concern shared by the Black Students Association and Stephen Williams, Peabody Professor of American Archaeology and Ethnology. Never in his Black Collegian article does he say or imply that any racial groups are “mooching off” of “affirmative action benefits,” he explicitly credits individuals of all backgrounds for their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and other struggles for racial justice.

Waite argues that “the pieces encourage not only hackneyed white guilt but male, middle-class, Christian, heterosexual, and able-bodied guilt as well.” However, the introduction of the packet explicitly states, “The emphasis is not on finding ‘right answers,” but on figuring out where you stand on an issue and articulating your position for the benefit of the group.” At no point does the committee seem to attack one particular group or label one as right and another as wrong. It may be this focus toward asking questions rather than providing answers that led Waite to conclude that the reading were not coherent and “failed to proceed logically.”

It is true that the pieces address privilege. It is also true that race is discussed primarily. Although this does not equal a perfect packet, the committee had hoped to use race as a “lens” for addressing these other issues. Unfortunately, it is glaringly obvious that Waite missed this point. He writes, “the freshmen were exposed to a poetic call for revolution and thereby were informed of the existence of a ‘war between races.’” The poem he references actually ends with the author—Lorna Dee Cervantes—concluding, “I do not believe in the war between races but in this country there is war.”

Cambridge, Mass.
October 19, 2008