Embrace the awkwardness and tell your family their views on whiny college students are bigoted and wrong.
That’s what Harvard University is encouraging in printing “holiday placemats for social justice,” which it distributed in dining halls around campus, The Harvard Crimson reports:
[D]escribed as “a placemat guide for holiday discussions on race and justice with loved ones,” the placemats pose hypothetical statements on those topics and offer a “response” to each of those in a question and answer format. For example, under a section entitled “Yale/Student Activism,” the placemat poses the question, “Why are Black students complaining? Shouldn’t they be happy to be in college?” and suggests that students respond by saying, “When I hear students expressing their experiences on campus I don’t hear complaining.”
They also tell students how to explain Harvard’s decision to abandon the title “House Master” (“the name is offensive to groups of people”) and convince family that America should welcome Syrian refugees (the U.S. accepted refugees from Central American wars with “very strict vetting and not one incident of violence”).
The placemats aren’t some errant bureaucrat’s doing, the Crimson says:
The product of a collaboration between the College’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the Freshman Dean’s Office, the placemats first appeared in Annenberg last week.
According to Jasmine Waddell, the freshman resident dean for Elm Yard, students don’t have to “believe in what’s on the placemat” (how enlightened!) but the placemats will give them “some tools to be able to have productive conversations” with family over the holidays.
The head of the equity office also claims you’re free to disagree, calling the placemats “a starting point”:
Some students might not find it helpful, and that’s OK too. 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.
In response, Harvard’s College Republican chapter released its own placement.
Earlier, Harvard provided students with a guide for dealing with pesky relatives back home. We've provided our own. pic.twitter.com/E0sF9Rja2H
— Harvard GOP (@harvardgop) December 16, 2015
Signed by the deans of student life and freshmen, the statement said the placemats “failed to account for the many viewpoints” on campus around the issue and “ultimately caused confusion in our community”:
Academic freedom is central to all that Harvard College stands for. To suggest that there is only one point of view on each of these issues runs counter to our educational goals. We appreciate the feedback that we have received about this initiative. Moving forward we will, with your continued input, support the growth and the development of independent minds.
UPDATE: Harvard College has apologized for the placemats, saying they inappropriately suggested “there is only one point of view” on the issues they presented. The article has been amended accordingly.
IMAGE: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr