Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

The First Year Black Table: A Change is Gonna Come

In my previous pages I spoke of not only the common issues that are seen in Harvard’s Black community, but also proposed some solutions. I stated the issues as the following:

  1. We like to talk about our problems constantly

  2. We are not truly inclusive

To these issues I offered two main solutions:

  1. Understand that true inclusivity involves respect and making others feel comfortable in a space

  2. We must be more supportive of one another

“Let’s sit down and talk.”

“We need to talk about this.”

These are common phrases said throughout the Harvard black community. We love to TALK―whether it be through the email lists or in meetings or town halls. As I’ve said before, JUST TALKING is not going to cut it. The issue with talking is that in our community, it is currently not productive. Yes, conversations need to be had, but at some point the conversations need to turn to providing steps of action. Too often all of our meetings turn into a large focus on complaining and lamenting, INSTEAD OF a focus on how to SOLVE the issues. Within this process of constantly complaining, we try to find someone or some group to blame. As a result, we slowly lose the ability to self-reflect and self-critique.

When black first-year students first witness the disfunction and “tea-spilling” that occurs over the email list and in meetings, they are often met with confusion. Many black first-years come to Harvard believing that they will be a part of a perfect black community at a perfect university. I had a friend here from my high school. He would tell me his grievances with the black community. As much as I wanted to believe him, I simply could not. Once I came to campus for myself, I quickly realized that there was some truth to what my friend had said about the state of the black organizations on campus. I decided to join the First-Year Black Table because I wanted to positively impact the experience for black first-years. It is important, especially for underrepresented first-year students, that they feel that there is a space that they can go to feel comfortable at a new and sometimes intimidating place.
In wake of the horrific incident involving a black African international Harvard male and Cambridge police officers, the role of the First-Year Black Table next year will be much more vital to the black Harvard community. Many students of color feel as if they can no longer trust HUHS and HUPD. Most importantly, they feel that the university has never had the best interests as it pertains to its students of color at heart. An example of this is the fact that there are only eight therapists of color in Harvard’s counseling and mental health support service (CAMHS). How can we insure that black first-years find a sense of home, but most of all comfort?

  1. The comfort must come from within first. BSA should hold elections for The First-Year Black Table earlier in the year (maybe 2nd week of September) in order for black first-years to be able to sooner communicate and make collaborative efforts to a more intimate, but still very open community.

  2. Yes―The First-Year Black Table should have a hierarchy of positions, but should be given more leadership by BSA itself in its beginnings. The Black Family Welcome Weekend event should not fall entirely on The First-Year Black Table. The stress of this event could be combated by earlier elections so that there is more time for the table to plan, along with a little more aid from BSA itself.

  3. When we put on events and no one comes, it seems like we have failed, regardless of the countless pubbing that we may have done. To us it feels like we do not matter. Our main goals include trying to make black freshmen better connected not only with themselves, but also with upperclassmen. It is so easy to feel like you are not competent at Harvard, and being in a leadership position amplifies that ten times more.

Coming from New Orleans, I was raised around a very different black community than the one here at Harvard. I had zero Africans. Zero Afro-Carribeans. I did not know what jollof was prior to my arrival on campus. Being a leader in not only a diverse Harvard community, but also in a diverse community at Harvard, I have learned so much about the continent my ancestors came from. While I personally still do not know what flag to wave, I am confident in the fact that I can lend a hand to help others wave theirs.

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