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Dear aspiring leaders and those who will choose them,
I am writing this during the spookiest part of October for Crimson editors — The Turkey Shoot. That time-old tradition when the paper’s outgoing leadership chooses their replacements on the masthead for the following year. This piece is my advice for my peers currently seeking roles at any level or for the future young, passionate, idea-full, collegiate journalists who wish to sit at the helm of this “storied” organization.
We are on the cusp of a 150th anniversary — the nation’s oldest continuously published college newspaper. Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were editors here before leading us out of the Great Depression and Cuban Missile Crisis. Our walls have effectively run out of space to hang our journalistic accolades, and we have lined our halls with the faces of the more than 30 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who used to stroll through them.
I could go on, but I take it for granted, aspiring and departing leaders, that you already knew all that. We all heard this information at our first open houses, and we publish it on our website today. Instead, what you must know and use to critically inform your work are precisely those parts of our organization’s story which I cannot take for granted that you already know. The parts that we regret and, perhaps, would prefer to forget today are nonetheless an integral part of The Crimson’s story that intimately affect what we do.
As Chair of the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee this past year, part of my work naturally centered on improving our historic lack of diversity. This issue hastily leads to investigating why there is an anti-Crimson stigma among communities of color on Harvard’s campus.
In digging for the roots of anti-Crimson stigma, I found patterns in many of those regrettable moments I mentioned that inform some crucial recommendations I will make today.
In the 1970s, right after Harvard started admitting Black students in any numbers big enough to form a community, The Crimson Editorial Board published editorials saying the College should not lower admissions standards for the social good and criticized the Black Students Union for stating that the organization was only open to Black students. Already, Lee A. Daniels ’71, a Crimson editor at the time, noted that “distrust that was racial in origin” was the most accurate descriptor for Black students’ attitudes toward The Crimson.
In 1981, The Crimson published a picture that contained prison-style bars superimposed over a pair of Black students. Though the image’s creator claimed it was a mistake, this resulted in a $480,000 lawsuit backed by the Black Students Association settled out of court. The Crimson paid an undisclosed sum, promised to cover minorities more, and capitalize the word “Black” as I’ve done here when referencing race.
In 1992, an editorial was published in the paper calling for the resignation of Allen S. Counter as director of the Harvard Foundation. In the wake of this by The Crimson’s admission, “almost every cultural group” expressed support for Counter, and the ensuing controversy raised tensions so high that interventions from the president of the University and police patrols around The Crimson’s building were necessary.
I could go on, but you are likely to have at least heard of the more contemporary racial and ethnic controversies. The crucial problem is perhaps best encompassed by a question that Cheryl R. Devall ’80, an executive in the ’80s, had back then: “Why can’t the people on the paper understand the anger that the people at BSA are bringing?”
The anti-Crimson stigma that has previously weakened the breadth and depth of our coverage due to the voices that have not been in the newsroom exists because The Crimson’s leadership has historically not sufficiently endeavored to understand why it is there in the first place. And this is not only exemplified by the recurring racial controversies over the last five decades, but by the simple fact that the role of “Chair of Diversity and Inclusivity Committee” did not exist until 2015.
Hence, I give you, the Turkey Shooters and their deliberators, the following prescriptions:
First, we ought to consider only those who have demonstrated a thoughtful commitment to Diversity and Inclusion as fit for leadership — at any level — and the rest should not be able to make the cut. A “thoughtful commitment” cannot begin and end in a pitch during the Turkey Shoot. The character of shooters’ entire tenure at The Crimson should demonstrate investment in D&I.
Second, the work of the D&I Committee must be further institutionalized. Many professional newspapers have a person on their masthead dedicated to inclusion — we should too. I go as far as to say that The Crimson’s traditional “Big Three” — President, Managing Editor, Business Manager — should be a Big Four, including an Inclusion Chair.
The value of these steps is partly symbolic — and symbols do matter. Further centering inclusion in how we define our leadership will have a meaningful effect on how people construe their roles at all times. But it is also more than that — it is aggressively practical and necessary.
This decade-upon-decade cycle of controversy following questionable editorial choices, reinforced by a lack of institutional memory, will not end passively — we have tried passive. It failed. Time will not heal past wounds; thoughtful actions might. It will take a conscious effort from those with decision-making power to break the cycle, and these ideas are an essential start.
Marcus B. Montague-Mfuni ’23, Crimson Diversity and Inclusivity Committee Chair and Associate Editorial editor, is a Psychology concentrator in Dunster House.
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