Harvard — February 19, 2012 11:16 pm

Correcting the Incorrect


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. 

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  • Bigbrother

    Well, this is quite scary.  It seems that these two tutors are simply on a witch hunt to
    persecute, as they dryly put it, Filali, for simply posting his opinion.  First of all, this response is utterly
    inappropriate, calling Filali’s piece problematic is inflammatory in and of
    itself, and clearly shows that these two tutors are simply trying to save face.
    Can you not here the desperation in their keystrokes? 

    It is really scary to think that the people who are suppose
    to foster dialogue in the house are the one’s trying to censor it right now. I
    reread Filali’s article and no way did I every see him singling out these
    two.  I guess we do live in an age
    of Big Brother-You can say whatever you want as long as Atshan and
    Poulson-Bryant agree with it.


    And honestly, using the kids last name only? Why don’t you
    try to be mature and a little more congenial.  I understand its tough when your job’s importance is called
    into question, but we are all grown ups here. 


    Beware what you say Harvard Students, Big Brother is

  • Hypocrisy


    “I wrote
    for Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, the New York Times, and Spin
    and I was one of the original c-founding editors of VIBE magazine. I
    wrote a coupla screenplays. I wrote a few books (the most recent of which, The
    VIPs, came out this summer).”

    It seems that Scott uses stylized language in his biography on the Kirkland
    House website.  As a person from an urban community I am rather offended
    by his use of “coupla”.

    Hypocrisy folks, got to love it.

  • Veritas

    As an outside observer, I am shocked that Race Relations
    tutors, who are employed by Harvard to foster productive discourse, would deem
    it appropriate to respond to one of their students in this manner.  The rebuttal is based on the idea that Naji
    Filali’s article is, to quote their title, “incorrect”, which strikes me as a
    dismissive and uncompromising stance to take. 
    Based on the information that has come to light, a small incident in an
    email sent over the House list resulted in the administration becoming involved.  Whether or not it was initiated by students,
    the involvement of a higher institutional authority clearly did play some role
    in the apology that was subsequently issued. 
    As such, Naji’s contention that the apology was, for all practical
    purposes, “forced” is more a matter of interpretation than of correct and
    incorrect, as these authors are determined to portray it.  Given that the House Committee went to the
    Race Relations tutors voluntarily, Naji’s claim that the tutors “insinuated
    themselves” was poor word choice and did merit clarification; however, it was
    certainly not grounds for the character assassination that has since taken
    place.  These conflict-resolution professionals
    found it necessary to call Naji’s journalism “inaccurate, inflammatory, and
    opportunist”, which makes me wonder…did they interview Naji regarding his
    journalistic intent before publishing their scathing remarks?  I, for one, don’t see it as constructive for
    them to speculate on such matters. 
    Calling his writing “opportunist” is a flagrant ad hominem attack, which
    really has no place in the discussion at all. 
    From all of the accusations going back and forth, it is clear that a
    small incident has been blown way out of proportion.  In Kirkland House, a statement was expressed
    in a context that had no clear derogatory message.  When this statement was attacked as
    politically incorrect, a highly publicized and, to many, surprising apology
    drew more attention to the vernacular used than it would have otherwise
    received.  Naji’s article expresses the respectful
    opinion that the way we currently deal with issues of political correctness in
    society, and at Harvard in particular, may increase the divisive power of
    expressions that have become an integral part of popular culture.  Others may argue that we need to discuss
    these issues in depth each time someone is offended by an innocuous statement
    that he or she finds culturally insensitive. 
    Both are valid points of view.   Naji’s article challenges the status quo with
    regard to the way we handle issues of political correctness in society.  Since this issue is directly pertinent to
    their job description, the Race Relations tutors of Kirkland should listen
    carefully to what Naji has to say and take the opportunity to engage in “respectful
    dialogue.”  After all, from the attempt
    at respectful dialogue that they have put forth in this article, it is clear
    that they need practice. 

  • Winthrop13

    These two men should honestly lose their job for attacking a student like this. Their language is horribly inflammatory, while the original article seemed quite tame was just putting an academic thought forward.

    Just another example of the tutors thinking they are god.

  • Ha.

    Reading these comments is hilarious. People need to chill out.

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