There’s something special about racism that comes out of Cambridge. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s almost like a stylized racism. Like, if it happened at Duke you’d just say “racism at Duke,” but when it happens at Harvard, you feel like saying, “A racial hypothetical puzzles the HLS community; stay tuned to see which professor makes it worse.”
Today we’ve got another weird racial story covered in crimson. It’s set against the backdrop of the student government elections at Harvard Law School that may take place later today — an event that I can’t imagine more than ten people on campus truly care about. But there are minority-on-minority accusations of racism, and the one white guy is just running to prove that he shouldn’t be allowed to run.
And, clear as I can tell, the catalyst was one breathless Harvard Law School Record article that kind of threw around allegations of racism just for the heck of it.
Are we going to tell you a little bit about the issues, so you can then vote on Above the Law for the next SBA president at HLS, in the hope that your votes might influence the election? Of course we are!
Okay. The controversy starts with a change in the Student Government laws regarding new student organizations. From the HLS Record:
According to an anonymous member of Student Government, a new bylaw states that: “Student government will consider fundamental the possibility for an organization to fit within the mission of another existing organization or office. For instance, Student Government has a default of not accepting applications for student organizations that are based on national, state or regional identity or degree status.” This bylaw appears to be intended to align with a Dean of Students regulation which reads: “In general, groups formed on the basis of a state or regional affiliation will not be granted student organization status. If you are interested in forming a state or regional group, please send an e-mail to the Dean of Students Office (dos@law), we may be able to assist with an event that celebrates a state or regional area that is not currently covered by our existing organizations.”
We’ve been told that the “anonymous member of Student Government” was one of the people running for student government president. But we haven’t been able to confirm that. We’ll call this person “Self-Affinity.”
Now, I’m not sure whether or not this bylaw is racially charged, and I don’t care. The last time an affinity group did anything useful at HLS was when the federalists were facing off against the royalists.
But an op-ed in the HLS Record takes it very seriously:
What is more disturbing however are the underlying fears behind these rules. Is it a fear of the creeping internationalization of the school? What makes the Georgia Club more acceptable than an Taiwanese Students Club? Or what makes an SJD students association more problematic than the Transfer Students Association? One common denominator here is the international component of these “troubling” groups. Are these signs of an incipient xenophobia at HLS? Identity groups, whether based on nationality, degree, ethnicity or religion, should be welcomed, rather than discouraged. For one, certain experiences are made only meaningful within the context of a community. There are good reasons why we encourage expressive associations in school such as the Muslim Law Students Association and the Federalist Society. All law students need to be exposed to a spectrum of ideas and social forces as part of their education.
I mean, I get where the author is going, but really, blow it out your ass. “Incipient xenophobia at HLS”? Come on. Do they offer $160K jobs in Xenophobia? If so, then a bunch of HLS students, white or black, foreign or domestic, will be lining up to interview. In fact, one of the only pleasant things about HLS is how little anybody else cares about everybody else’s s**t.
Which is why, as much as I value the “spectrum of ideas and social forces” that are part of great education, I’m not entirely sold that “free pizza for X and any non-X brave or hungry enough to come” is really the best way to achieve it.
In any event, whether or not candidate Self-Affinity, who is on the student government, was the original source of the Record article or not, he’s seized upon this entirely fabricated controversy in his election campaign. Yes, because at HLS running for student council president requires a more sophisticated campaign than “I believe someone should bring us orange slices halfway through our classes.” Self-Affinity launched a full-scale attack on his chief rival, who we’ll be calling “JoAnne Galloway” (after the character from A Few Good Men who is a total drag). Here’s the pertinent part of Self-Affinity’s mailer:
As an SJD representative on Student Government this year, I have witnessed Student Government spend hours on petty decisions such as t-shirt colors or number of drink tickets. What’s worse, Student Government has recently adopted an anti-diversity measure and tabled a policy that is not truly transparent. Your money should not be funding decisions that do not substantively improve the quality of your HLS experience, let alone discriminatory ones.
Sorry, that’s the part of the mailer that’s germane to the controversy, but it doesn’t full capture Self-Affinity’s douchiness as I’ve become familiar with it over the last 24 hours. Lemme find a more appropriate excerpt:
Instead of cookies, I offer you my cumulative experience on state and student government. I offer you the opportunity to speak up and be heard. We’re listening. Help us break through the barriers to build a Student Government that is truly accountable, transparent, diverse and representative. Let’s build bridges between the various programs within our student community. One law school. One future!
Ahh, that’s the good stuff.
Now, if Lt. Cmdr. Galloway had a shred of political instinct about her, she’d have blown this off and responded with something like: “Back in cookies and drink ticket land, I promise to redouble our efforts to bring you booze and sweets. Sorry for interrupting whatever actually important business you’ve been attending to.”
Instead she took the race bait. And spent somewhere between fifteen hundred and eleventy-billion words defending herself.
Sigh. We’ve given Self-Affinity his say. In the interest of equal time, let’s briefly (!) scan Galloway’s life story before we vote….