‘I, Too, Am Harvard’ Photos Tell Black Students’ Stories

Jolie Lee, USA TODAY, March 5, 2014

Some Harvard students share what it’s like to be black at the Ivy League school in a photo campaign called “I, Too, Am Harvard.”

The photos, posted on a Tumblr blog, feature Harvard students holding signs with phrases others have spoken to them. “You don’t sound black. You sound smart,” one sign reads. Another states, “You’re so lucky to be black . . . so easy to get into college!”

“I, Too, Am Harvard” is black students’ declaration that they do have a right to be on campus, says Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, a Harvard sophomore whose independent-study project sparked the photo campaign.

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Black students make up 11% of Harvard’s freshman class, according to the college’s admissions office. Matsuda-Lawrence says the photo campaign and a play this Friday based on her independent research will, she hopes, spark a conversation with the administration about race relations at the school.

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“This is an important conversation for all Harvard students, and for college students across the nation. All our students belong at Harvard,” school spokesman Jeff Neal said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Network.

Neal points out that Harvard was one of the universities arguing for “race-conscious admissions policies” in a 2012 brief to the Supreme Court for Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case about affirmative action.

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For her research, Matsuda-Lawrence interviewed dozens of black students. Although the black student community is diverse, many shared similar stories of discrimination and isolation, she says.

“To hear our stories echoed in each other’s voices, you feel your feelings are valid and legitimate,” she says.

Other universities now want to start their own “I, Too, Am” campaigns, Matsuda-Lawrence says.

The title, “I, Too, Am Harvard” is an homage to the Langston Hughes poem, “I Too,” which ends with the line, “I, too, am America.”

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