The Writing on the Wall

Last Friday, we discovered that guests at the Chinese Students Association’s Graffiti Party had scrawled racial slurs on the walls of the Lowell Grille. This blatant act of intolerance is unacceptable. Unfortunately, this event is just one of the most recent in a series of discriminatory incidents that have transpired in the past two weeks.

Earlier this month, controversy boiled at Dartmouth concerningits newly appointed president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim. An anonymous e-mail referred to Dr. Kim as a “Chinaman” and even went so far as to claim that “Dartmouth is America, not Panda Garden Rice Village Restaurant.” A few days later, xenophobic comments on the Crimson’s website began to circulate over many email lists: “Asians and Indians are not creative and are basically just cookie cutter academic grunts.”

Though these recent attacks have been directed toward the Asian American community, no community at Harvard has been exempt from overt discrimination over the past few years. The Quad incident, the vandalizing of the Chabad House Menorah, and other incidents affecting the Latino and queer communities are only a few of too many examples of individuals being marginalized at Harvard. While each incident may represent a minor, isolated instance of bigotry, collectively these events reveal a deeper, systemic problem: Discrimination still laces our society and crosses lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and creed.

From this perspective, the messages left on the wall in the basement of Lowell House are indicative of a larger, unseen level of discrimination in society. The ignorant quips that we overhear on the street, the judgmental glances of passing strangers, the unconscious but offensive actions of others—these all remind us that none of us is immune from hatred. They reflect the intolerance that permeates our community. These experiences are our own messages on the wall.

When discrimination occurs, it is natural for the targeted communities to focus inward on solidarity. At the same time, for those of us who do not directly identify with the victims of intolerance, it is easy to feel that the problem is not our own.

But defamation of walls and monuments, racial profiling, and discriminatory layoffs all stem from the ignorance present in our shared community. We must realize that attacks on individual groups are fundamentally divisive and tear at the fabric that holds our community together. These incidents are thus not only an assault on our human dignity, but also an assault on our community as a whole.

Rather than allow such matters to pass unaddressed, we should view them as opportunities to unite as a campus and to highlight the values that connect us rather than the differences that divide us. To conceptualize these incidents as isolated events targeting specific groups is to deny the fact that we are all connected as a student body and as a community. Whether these incidents of ignorance and racial discrimination strike far away or close to home, we are all affected.

The Harvard community now faces an important choice. Do we choose to stand back divided, or do we step forward as one?

This is our moment. We call upon you, the Harvard community, to seize this unique opportunity for solidarity. This Wednesday at noon, we will rally together as one community, with one voice. We will gather in front of University Hall to demonstrate our commitment to tolerance and acceptance. Though we cannot eradicate discrimination through a single rally, we only ensure its survival through silence. Only when we unite as one Harvard can we wipe our walls clean of ignorance.

Edward Y. Lee ’08-’09 is a government concentrator in Kirkland House. Weijie Huang ’09 is a government concentrator in Eliot House. Manning Ding ’12, a Crimson news comper, lives in Lionel Hall. Daniel C. Suo ’10 is a computer science concentrator in Adams House. Sean A. Li ’10 is an economics concentrator in Adams House. Joyce Y. Zhang ’09, a Crimson news writer, is a government and economics concentrator in Leverett House. Tzu-Ying Chuang ’10 is a chemical and physical biology concentrator in Mather House. All are concerned leaders of the Asian American community at Harvard College.