Harvard Tells Students What To Think About Race and Politics, President Ends Up Apologizing

Photo credit: Carlos Pacheco CC BY 2.0

An attempt to offer students advice on how to handle conversations about race and politics with family members over the holiday have backfired in the face of Harvard administrators and the President, Drew G. Faust.

The beef erupted over the language on laminated placemats titled “Holiday Placemat for Social Justice.”

The placemats were created by the College’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the Freshman Dean’s Office. They were described as “a placemat guide for holiday discussions on race and justice with loved ones.”
“It’s not about stifling opinion, but about giving us a starting point,” Emelyn A. de la Peña, Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, told The Harvard Crimson.
“Some students might not find it helpful, and that’s OK too,” said de la Peña. “But if they’re sparking dialogue across campus or even just in the dining hall, I think we’ve done a good job by helping students to have difficult conversations.”
The “Holiday Placemat for Social Justice” were adapted from a similar guide created and disseminated earlier this year, by an activist group called Showing Up for Racial Justice.
Some students have claimed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of speech are being encroached upon.

“I don’t think that’s the place of any Harvard employee to tell students the right way to think about the Syrian refugee crisis. That’s ridiculous to me.” – Aaron I. Henricks ’16.

It’s a similar opinion shared by Alan Dershowitz and other students around the country, seemingly as push back to the Black Lives Matter Movement and similar activists groups forcing dialog about race on college campuses.
At Harvard alone, the years saw protests over a slaveholders monument on campus, the defacement of portraits of the school’s Black professors and the lack of diversity in the curriculum. And now, it looks like the University will end the year with another controversy.
Representatives of the Undergraduate Council fired off a letter to the President criticizing the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for the “party-line talking points” which will ultimately stifle free speech and open debates.
Harvard President Drew G. Faust agreed in an email apology sent to students at the University.

“I don’t think the University should be directing people—students, staff, faculty—what to say or what to think,” Harvard President Drew G. Faust told The Harvard Crimson. “The University is a place that ought to foster robust discussion and disagreement, and welcome all perspectives, and that did not seem to be consistent with the message of the placemats.”