Harvard University has created a “Holiday Placemat for Social Justice,” which it is distributing to students in the hopes they will push liberal points of view while visiting their families over winter break.The placemat is the work of Harvard’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and was distributed in an undergraduate dining hall by school staff.
The placemat covers four different topics: “Yale/student activism”, “Islamophobia/refugees,” “House master title” (Harvard recently abolished the title after complaints it evoked slavery), and “Black murders in the street.” Each topic is set up as a series of hypothetical questions from family members, followed by a suggested response (which is always liberal in nature). For instance, the “House master title” section goes as follows:
“Why did they change the name? What does a housemaster have to do with slavery? It’s not related to that at all.”
Response: For some, the term master, used to describe stewardship of a group of people (such as a house), is reminiscent of slave masters and the legacy of slavery. The title, ‘House Master,’ is not longer actively associated with its historical antecedents nor is it used to address House Masters. Given the name is offensive to groups of people, it doesn’t seem onerous to change it. The master of a subject is an understandable use of the word. However, within our cultural and historical context, implying master of people feels both inappropriate and ill-founded. There are other words we could use such as ‘head of house.’
The placemat also argues for the acceptance of Syrian refugees by likening them to refugees accepted from Central America. It suggests everybody should support recent protests at Yale University, where students drove professors Erika and Nicholas Christakis out of the classroom after an email Erika sent about Halloween costumes was deemed offensive. (RELATED: Meet The Privileged Yale Student Who Shrieked At Her Professor)
The guide also offers a set of generic advice about how to talk to family members, including a one-word tip to “Breathe,” presumably to avoid losing one’s cool while talking to less progressive family members.
The placemat isn’t an original work; instead, it’s mostly adapted from a similar one created by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a group for white people hoping to be involved in race-related causes. As noted by Harvard student Idrees Kahloon, who criticized the placemat in an editorial for The Harvard Crimson, SURJ takes some extreme views, with a recent article on its website declaring that “racist vigilantes and the police force have a long, collaborative history with one another.” Kahloon argues that by distributing the placemats, Harvard is directly “forcing College-endorsed political positions on students” and serves to promote “groupthink.”
Harvard spokeswoman Rachel Dane told Campus Reform the placemats were deliberately intended to shape the conversations undergraduates have with their parents.
“The project came about as we thought together about how we can acknowledge the issues happening nationally and internationally and was intended to provide a framework to help first-year students with potentially difficult conversations during their first visits back home,” Dane said.
Another Harvard representative, assistant diversity dean Emelyn de la Peña, insisted the placemats do not constitute indoctrination despite presenting only a single point of view as correct.
“It’s not about stifling opinion, but about giving us a starting point,” she said. “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.”
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