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Students have expressed concerns about the University’s decision to select former Mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg―who is a 1966 alumnus of the Business School―as the 2014 commencement speaker.
Concerns center around Bloomberg’s support of stop-and-frisk, a New York City police policy which allows officers to stop, question, and search pedestrians for illegal materials at random.
According to a report published by the New York Civil Liberties Union, young black and Latino males―though they comprise only 4.7 percent of the city’s population―accounted for 41.6 percent of stops under this policy in 2011. The report also states that the number of stops that involved young black men exceeded the entire population of young black men throughout the city.
“Bloomberg’s policies have deeply affected minority groups in a discriminatory way,” Gabriel H. Bayard ’15 said. “If he’s speaking at the [Institute of Politics] that’s one thing, but for him to speak at Commencement and receive an honorary degree from Harvard is another.”
The University press release announcing the speaker selection did not state that Bloomberg would receive an honorary degree, but previous Commencement speakers such as Oprah Winfrey and Fareed R. Zakaria have received honorary degrees.
Harvard College Black Men’s Forum President Rodriguez S. Roberts ’15 also raised questions about the selection of the former mayor.
“Harvard’s bringing him to deliver the commencement address could be taken as either an endorsement of this policy or as simple ignorance thereof,” Roberts wrote in an email. “To be honest, I’m not quite sure which is worse,” he said.
Race came to the forefront of student discussion last week as students launched a campaign entitled I, Too, Am Harvard, which highlighted what some described as insensitivity to racial issues at Harvard.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Jeff Neal responded to complaints in a statement to Buzzfeed.
“We applaud organizers and participants of the “I, too, am Harvard” campaign for working to make their voices heard,” Neal said. “This is an important conversation for all Harvard students, and for college students across the nation. All our students belong at Harvard.”
Yet some students who participated in the campaign felt that selecting Bloomberg only exacerbated concerns that Harvard has not focused enough on race relations on campus.
Selecting Bloomberg “makes the administration's recent statement about valuing the presence and concern of students of color here on campus even less genuine,” said Keyanna Y. Wigglesworth ’16, who was featured in the photo campaign.
Other students expressed concerns about Bloomberg’s implementation of policies targeted at the Muslim community of New York during his tenure as mayor. Under the Bloomberg administration, the New York Police Department monitored Muslim student organizations at 16 universities both within and outside of New York as part of a counterterrorism effort.
“[Bloomberg] has a bad record with the NYPD and minorities,” Harvard Islamic Society member Zarmeena Dawood ’15 said.
Islamic Society member Shehryar R. Sheikh ’15 voiced similar concerns. Sheikh said that, as a Muslim, he was disturbed by Bloomberg’s selection because of his perception of the former mayor’s treatment of Muslims in New York City.
Sheikh also noted that his roommate plans to wear a “Don’t frisk me, bro” T-shirt to commencement.
Bloomberg delivered commencement addresses at Stanford University in 2013 and the University of North Carolina in 2012.
—Staff writer Maddie Sewani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @maddiesewani.
—Staff writer Harrison K. Wexner can be reached at email@example.com.
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