Most freshmen at Yale might not know where to get good catfish or find a hairdresser who does cornrows. Harvard freshmen, on the other hand, have had their questions answered in book form.
For six years an idea buzzed around the Harvard black community to provide a single, authoritative resource for black students at Harvard. Finally, last February, Harvard students Marques Redd, then a sophomore, and Kiratiana Freelon, then a senior, provided such a resource — “The Black Guide to Life at Harvard.”
“The book covers black life in its totality,” said Redd. “The first part is about the Harvard-specific experience, and the second part is an out-and-about section.”
While Redd said the response to the book has been “overwhelmingly positive,” its publication has not been without controversy.
Thursday, the Harvard Crimson reported that the Black Students Association will remove a page from the Black Guide because one article in the book lists “Top 10 Signs Harvard Has Driven a Black Woman Crazy.” One of the “signs” included in the piece is “When she thinks falsely accusing people of rape is funny.”
In an e-mail to the Association of Black Harvard Women and the Black Men’s Forum, Redd wrote that the item was intended as a personal reference to an ex-girlfriend who accused him of rape.
Redd did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment about the article. Charles Moore, president of the Black Student’s Association at Harvard, also did not return repeated phone calls.
But the book — minus one page — will still be available to the general public.
Most of the book was designed to assist the black student body navigate through the Harvard experience via historical accounts of black student organizations, a listing of black faculty, and interviews and essays from Harvard alumni and present-day students.
The book also devotes a significant portion of its 322 pages to black history at Harvard, starting on the very first page with a dedication to W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois, an advocate of racial equality, was the first black person to be awarded a doctoral degree from Harvard, in 1895.
In his 1903 essay, “My Time at Harvard,” DuBois wrote that he was “in Harvard, but not of it.”
Redd said this sentiment is still relevant today for some black students and so became the book’s guiding theme and motivation — that of revealing Harvard and Cambridge as accessible to black Harvard students.
“We included DuBois as a model of an involved student,” Redd said, in an interview prior to Thursday’s announcement.
Although comedic at times, the book also has sections that focus on the present situation of blacks at Harvard. The book states that black students are involved in once all-white organizations like the Glee Club and the Harvard Crimson, but they have yet to break through and become, as DuBois said, “of” Harvard.
Redd said his aspirations for the book go beyond simply informing students about the locations of black churches and black entertainment venues. He said he hopes the book will combat apathy and unify students, faculty and alumni by informing the student.
Indeed, what once started as simply a floating idea in Harvard’s black community has grown to a large-scale project. Although the initial order was for 1,000 copies, Redd said alumni from around the country have requested copies of the book after reading an article about it in The New York Times. The Black Student Association held a dinner “kick-off” upon its publication, which he said over 200 people attended, including some Harvard alumni who flew in for the event.
But at Harvard, the book’s impact is not yet widespread.
“Honestly, [the Black Guide has had] no real impact. It could promote some sort of self-segregation when you have one group of people reading something that the other people aren’t,” said one Harvard freshman. “But it’s sanctioned by the school, so they can give it out to everyone, which might be a waste of money, though everyone would probably read it.”
Redd said he currently has no plans to expand the Black Guide to other colleges, but added that he would be honored if the book inspired other people to write similar books. And while there is no guide for black students at Yale, Redd said he would be willing to give advice to anyone who hopes to pursue the venture.
“[A black student guide for Yale] would probably be something worthwhile,” Chris Phipps ’06 said.
Yale’s class of 2006 is 8.5 percent black, while Harvard’s class of 2006 stands at 6.8 percent.
“Some of those things would be beneficial,” Sam Espinosa ’06 said. “It would be interesting to read. I am Mexican, and do not feel I would personally benefit. It’s not practical for me. It would just be entertainment.”