Questioning Whether Black People Belong at Harvard Is Racist
Some doubt Black people are capable of earning a seat
American history is a story of exclusivity, of welcoming some people with open arms while keeping others at bay. You only have to glance at the country’s prestigious colleges and universities, which began as whites-only institutions, to see this spectacle play out. For example, Harvard University, a private Ivy League school in Massachusetts, started admitting students in 1636 but did not admit their first Black undergraduate student until Beverly Garnett Williams in 1847. For over two hundred years, the racist, you-can’t-sit-with-us culture persevered on campus, limiting Black students and faculty opportunities.
So, when Republican Representative Jeff McNeely, a White man, asked Democratic Representative Abe Jones, a Black man, “if he would have gotten into Harvard if he wasn’t an athlete or minority,” he was continuing this tradition of questioning whether Black people could, based on merit, gain acceptance to a prominent university, like Harvard. Remember that McNeely does not work in Harvard’s academic admissions department or have access to Jones’ educational record. Yet, he assumed that a Black man like Jones could only attend Harvard in the 1970s through a race-based affirmative action policy or athletic scholarship. “When I graduated from Harvard, I was in rank two, so I earned my place, and I did well,” Jones responded in the uncomfortable exchange. While Representative McNeely has since apologized, it doesn’t change that his line of questioning was undeniably racist.
Harvard University came clean about its ties to slavery.
Harvard University recently released a report shedding light on its legacy of slavery. The key findings revealed that, since the colonial period began, and “continuing well into the 19th century, the University and its donors benefited from existential financial ties to slavery,” which allowed the institution to maintain staff, support its student body, develop infrastructure, and establish its illustrious reputation. Researchers found evidence that forty-one prominent Harvard associates, including faculty, staff, and donors, enslaved Black people…