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Each year, the University’s administration proudly declares its celebration of a multitude of marginalized groups’ heritage months, societal days of awareness, and cultural holidays, broadcasting its supposed allyship out to the world with a smile. At first glance, Harvard’s announcements sound like a nice thought; these occasions are certainly worth acknowledging.
The problem is, when a nice thought is never backed up by actions, it is just that — a fleeting thought.
I’m afraid Harvard’s money is nowhere near its mouth. The unfortunate truth is, Harvard seemingly shirks serious self-reflection and meaningful investments into progress both within and beyond the University. Instead of concrete change, it appears that Harvard gravitates toward every performative gesture it can make as long as it requires little genuine effort and demands little meaningful action.
After all, where was Harvard when dozens of Black student organizations on campus wrote a letter to the administration denouncing their response to the Leverett swatting attack? And where was Harvard when their students called for the University to dename Winthrop House, a House named after the family responsible for the legalization of slavery in the Massachusetts Bay Colony?
Where was Harvard when students time and time again called for it to create an Ethnic Studies concentration over the course of 50 years? And where was Harvard when students repeatedly called for a multicultural center, demanding that the University acknowledge the daily challenges that students of color face at predominantly white institutions?
Some might be quick to respond, “Harvard defended affirmative action for you, so you should be grateful.” And to some extent, I am. But the University’s record on issues of racial diversity is far messier than that retort admits. After all, in the very same case in which it defended affirmative action, Harvard fervently defended its preferences for students on the so-called Dean’s Interest List and who have legacy status — both policies well known for the fact that they heavily favor wealthy white students in admissions.
When seen in this light, it becomes clear that the University is not necessarily interested in the mission of “defending diversity.” It is certainly interested in preserving its status. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean prioritizing the wellbeing of students. If anything, Harvard has made it abundantly clear that they intend to maintain their shining public image above all else.
Unfortunately, change is rarely the best PR. After all, it requires acknowledging that a problem existed in the first place, something Harvard has proven unwilling to do unless its hand has been forced. Harvard has been known for many things over the years, but handing matters of race well is rarely one of them. The truth is, Harvard only began to seriously consider admitting students of color after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Today, the affirmative action programs that were born in the wake of Dr. King’s death have been torn to shreds by the Supreme Court, and the very same university that purports to “defend diversity” seems to have gone silent. Months after the Supreme Court’s decision in SFFA v. Harvard striking down race-based affirmative action, countless students await changes to our admissions policy, hoping for some sort of meaningful effort to rebuild the diversity that Harvard claims to treasure so dearly. But Harvard has yet to deliver.
If Harvard wants to prove to its students of color that they are more than a fleeting thought, it has a plethora of options.
Harvard could easily devote a small fraction of last year’s $406 million budget surplus to the construction of a multicultural center. Or Harvard could finally recognize ethnic studies as a valid academic discipline, offering more courses on its subject matter and enshrining it as a concentration at the College. Or Harvard could easily step away from systematically granting legacy students and those the Dean’s Interest list a bonus in admissions. Or Harvard could easily dename Winthrop House, as more than 1,000 total petitioners — including nearly 50 of Winthrop’s own descendants — have called for.
Any one of these actions could begin to show students that Harvard treats diversity as more than a statistic. But as we wait for Harvard to take its students of color seriously, remember: Without action to back it up, “defend diversity” is just a slogan.
Joseph W. Hernandez ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.
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