The managing editor of the Harvard Political Review resigned last week, citing conflicts with other organization leaders over instances he described as racist.
Chimaoge C. Ibenwuku ’20 announced his resignation in a public letter posted to several social media platforms Wednesday. Ibenwuku, who wrote that he was the only non-white member of HPR’s Executive Board, cited “longstanding organizational problems relating to race and racism” as his reason for stepping down.
“I have not taken this decision lightly as I have been a part of and devoted to the HPR for the entirety of my time at Harvard before this point, as anyone who knows me well can attest,” he wrote. “I have faced many instances of discrimination and witnessed many racist things that made me uncomfortable in my time as part of the HPR.”
In his letter, Ibenwuku cited several instances when he allegedly faced discriminatory treatment. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment on his account.
The HPR’s Executive Board — which includes President Russell H. Reed ’20, Publisher Wyatt W. Hurt ’21, Associate Managing Editors Katie A. Weiner ’20 and Jessica A. Boutchie ’21, and Staff Director Alexis M. Mealey ’21 — wrote in an emailed statement that they dispute Ibenwuku’s account of his experience at the publication.
“While we disagree with the account presented on social media, we believe it is inappropriate to publicly discuss internal editorial or staffing disagreements,” they wrote.
In his letter, Ibenwuku specifically referenced a Nov. 3 HPR story titled “Renaissance for Rwanda’s Dogs,” which he said argues that the “supposed change in Rwanda’s treatment of dogs was a sign of development, cultural advancement, and nationwide post-genocidal healing.”
“[The article] was poorly sourced and logically unsound. Additionally, it trafficked heavily in anti-Black and anti-African tropes and false narratives,” he wrote. “As an African (although I was born and raised in the US, both of my parents are Nigerian immigrants), I was horrified at the thought of the HPR publishing such a low quality and frankly racist article.”
The HPR Executive Board wrote in their statement that they have taken steps this year to make the organization more diverse and inclusive.
“We are committed to continuing this work under the leadership of our 52nd Masthead, which was elected on November 10, and remain dedicated to making the HPR a more inclusive, equitable, and representative voice for all Harvard students,” they wrote.
A day after Ibenwuku posted his resignation letter, Reed sent an email signed by the Executive Board to HPR members apologizing for the letter’s “impact” on the organization. The email outlines measures HPR has taken in recent years to foreground diversity. The organization has created two commissions — one on race and ethnicity and one on gender and sexuality — and codified Title IX reporting procedures for its staff.
“His letter of resignation expressed concerns that are serious and important, and we do not take them lightly,” Reed wrote. “We want to take a moment to reaffirm that the values of inclusion, diversity, and representation have been fundamental to the spirit of Masthead this year.”
Former HPR member Henry N. Brooks ’19 said he thinks Ibenwuku’s letter clearly explained his reasons for resigning.
“It's a complex issue,” he said. “There's a wide gulf between a Facebook tirade and a thoughtful sort of explanation of reasoning. And I thought that Chimaoge’s piece was very thoughtful, and it clearly outlined every measure he had taken before going to Facebook and basically going to the public sphere.”
Brooks said that during his time at the HPR, he participated in conversations about making the publication more diverse and inclusive. He said he thinks HPR spearheaded those efforts to improve the publication’s quality.
“Foregrounding that again is a big issue because it has implications for a lot of other big issues,” he said. “The HPR, like most reputable publications, is ostensibly nonpartisan. And you can't have a nonpartisan journal if it's also kind of monoracial, right?”
—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.
— Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @amandaysu.