Special Note: This response has been written by and is being posted on behalf of Sa’ed Atshan and Scott Poulson-Bryant, Race Relations Tutors in Kirkland House
As the Kirkland House Race Relations Tutors, we are writing to correct the factual inaccuracies written by Naji Filali in his recent Harvard Political Review piece, “When Political Correctness is Incorrect.”
While it is true that our House Committee sent an initial email to students advertising a Stein Club event—and that they sent a follow-up email apologizing for the “insensitive and inappropriate” language and content of the original email—Filali’s description of what transpired in between those two emails, and the role of the Race Relations Tutors in light of the situation, is inaccurate, inflammatory, and opportunist.
Filali made the assertion that the “Race Relations Tutors insinuated themselves” and “effectively forc[ed] the HoCo to apologize for their advertisement.” In fact, what actually took place was that multiple students from the House met with us as Race Relations Tutors to express their concerns about the original email. Concurrently, the HoCo Chairs had already contacted the Resident Dean to seek his advice on how to proceed. We merely joined a subsequent meeting between the HoCo Chairs and the Dean, in which the former expressed their desire to issue an apology. This was done completely out of their commitment to fostering a nurturing environment for all students. (Editor’s Note: Naji’s reference to force has been omitted. Additionally, a reference to the administration’s involvement has been added.)
As Race Relations Tutors, our objective is not to interfere in student affairs, but rather to facilitate conversations among them and to serve as resources and sources of support to all students in the House. Though Filali sees us around the House every day, he never took a moment to share his views with us or to inquire about our involvement. Nor did Filali interview the HoCo Chairs. Instead, he drew his own conclusion that we had somehow overstepped our mandate and pressured students to apologize, and then used this as a platform to express his political views in the Harvard Political Review.
We are proud of the diverse community that we serve at Kirkland House and we understand that there will inevitably be differences in political points of view among students. Yet we do not appreciate our work being mischaracterized as a “threat to productive discourse about race.” Unfortunately, Filali’s misrepresentation goes against the same productive spirit that he demands. We consider ourselves to be exactly what Filali calls for: “intermediaries” with “limited role[s].” And in that role, we unequivocally welcome and celebrate respectful dialogue.
Sa’ed Atshan is a fourth-year joint doctoral candidate in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies. Scott Poulson-Bryant is a third-year doctoral candidate in History of American Civilization. They both serve as a Resident Tutors in Kirkland House.