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UPDATED: November 19, 2015, at 1:21 a.m.
Dozens of students and Harvard affiliates gathered in the Science Center Plaza on Wednesday afternoon and marched to Porter Square to meet with demonstrators from Tufts to rally in support of black student activists on other college campuses, where mass protests against racism have erupted in recent weeks.
Protesters, who began their rally around Harvard Yard at 3:30 p.m. after some students walked out of their afternoon classes, were joined by top Harvard administrators, including University President Drew G. Faust and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana. Neither Faust nor Khurana joined the crowd as they began to march down Mass. Ave. chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “This is what democracy looks like,” and “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Beginning with a number of poems, songs, and spoken word performances at the Science Center Plaza rally, organizers called on fellow students to provide support for peers at other institutions like Yale and the University of Missouri at Columbia, where controversies have instigated debate about the experience of students of color there and how administrators have responded to allegations of racism.
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Faust said in a separate interview, “and I look forward to working with the community of students and others to make sure everybody at Harvard feels included.”
At the conclusion of the rally near Harvard Yard, students began to march up Mass. Ave. chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “this is what democracy looks like,” and “out of the classroom, into the streets.”
In Porter, the Harvard activists merged with a significantly larger group of protesters from Tufts. Several Tufts affiliates arrived carrying a banner that read “We are the Three,” a reference to data from the federal government that say only 3 percent of Tufts undergraduates are black.
While the speakers from Harvard voiced largely the same themes in Porter Square as they did at the Science Center, activists from Tufts had sharper criticisms, reciting more pointed chants and reading a list of nine demands for their administration.
Among the demands were increases in black representation among undergraduates and faculty to 13 percent, increased funding for Tufts’s Africana Center, and an end to “racial profiling” that they claimed was perpetrated by the Tufts University Police Department.
Robert Rush ’18, an organizer of the event, said Harvard organizers had no intention of making demands.
“Our conversation at Harvard was surrounded around the idea of solidarity,” said Rush, emphasizing that the demands formulated were “solely Tufts’.”
Event organizers praised Harvard administrators’ commitment to creating an inclusive environment.
Earlier in the day, Jay M. Harris, the dean of undergraduate education, had told faculty members of the planned walk-out and march in an email, encouraging them to inform teaching fellows.
“I am writing to let you know that many of our students plan to leave their classrooms today at 3:15 in a show of solidarity with Black students nationwide,” Harris wrote. “We know that many of you will want to join with our students in these challenging times.”
For her part, event organizer Olivia M. Castor ’17 said, “The administration was supportive and extremely thoughtful because they understand the importance of having an inclusive environment.”
Rush agreed, saying, “What really shows how well the event went was the attendance by some administrators, which shows that Harvard is moving in a direction that is the right one.”
Harvard attendees, by and large, appreciated the opportunity to connect with students at Tufts.
“Seeing all the students of Tufts University walking down to meet us at Porter Square—it was just really heartwarming to see that feeling of connection that was universal in the crowd as we were walking down the streets,” said Asia T. Stewart ’18, who heard about the event from through her involvement with the Association of Black Harvard Women. “I think it’s time for our voices as black students and students of color to be heard across campuses, and especially across Harvard.”
After the rally at Porter, some Harvard and Tufts students debriefed at an off-the-record event at the Student Organization Center at Hilles, an opportunity, organizers said, to put together plans for future activity.
Across the country, allegations of racism at peer schools have prompted protests that have spanned days. At Yale, students have held a number of highly attended marches, prompted both by a student’s claim that a male student had said his fraternity’s Halloween party was for “white girls only,” and a separate email from Erika L. Christakis ’86, who oversees a residential college at Yale alongside her husband Nicholas. In an email to her college’s residents, Christakis—who is a former master of Harvard’s Pforzheimer House—challenged an earlier message from Yale administrators advising students not to wear culturally insensitive Halloween costumes, and some students responded with outrage.
At Mizzou, students have also protested incidents involving racism and have criticized the response from the university’s officials. Timothy M. Wolfe, the Missouri system’s president, as well as Mizzou’s chancellor, said they would step down under pressure from protesters last week.
—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.
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