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Harvard gay scandal revealed by press

(U-WIRE) PHILADELPHIA – Harvard University, with its academics ranking among the highest in the nation, claims diversity, liberalism and a broad educational base as some of its cornerstones of success.
While this boast might slip by uncontested now, Amit Paley, a Harvard student and writer for The Harvard Crimson, recently uncovered a span of history during which this was not the case.
About six months ago, Paley discovered 500 pages of documents describing an episode from the 1920s in which the Harvard administration ousted a number of male students under the suspicion that they were gay or were associating with gays, The New York Times reported.
After intrusive rounds of questioning about the men’s sex lives, the students found “guilty” — two of whom later committed suicide — were ousted from the university and chased out of the town of Cambridge. The dean then ordered that a letter be added to the students’ files to hinder their professional and social prospects.
Although these events occurred more than 80 years ago, they haven’t lost their relevance. Debates over sodomy laws — which currently exist in 13 states — are still taking place. In fact, the Supreme Court is set for a re-evaluation of laws on gay rights, The Times reported. The current controversy stems from a challenge made by two gay men whose activities have been found illegal through the eyes of the Texas judicial system.
Given the ongoing struggles that many homosexuals face, Penn Communications rofessors Larry Gross and Katherine Sender said they were hardly fazed by the information that has been kept safely guarded for the past 80 years behind Harvard’s towering stone walls.
he Crimson article incited Gross to refer back to a similar incident in 1950, in which former Harvard Professor Francis Matthiessen, who, after being fired and persecuted by the press for his extremist views and sexual orientation, jumped to his death from an upper floor of the Hotel Manger in Boston.
Nonetheless, Gross insisted that these events are not to be taken as commentaries against Harvard, but rather as commentaries on the times.
“This was the same period in which universities recently opened quotas for the number of Jewish students,” he said. “There was an attitude of unabashed discrimination…. Let’s not even talk about colored people.”
Still, Gross insists that the events that occurred in Cambridge, while extreme, could have happened, to some degree, up through the 1970s.
The only difference, he said, is that then, administrators might have facilitated a quieter disappearance of students and faculty members rather than ensuring that they continued to suffer beyond their college careers.
Gross said that it is quite probable that incidents like this occurred relatively frequently in the realm of higher education. Given the difficulties Paley found in uncovering details, Gross said that other such occurrences probably remain stifled under similar barriers.
As an openly lesbian faculty member, Sender said that Penn seemed to embrace her sexual orientation rather than condemn or oppress it.
Still, she maintained that there are cases in which gay faculty are taken less seriously than their straight male counterparts.
Much of this rests on career choices, she said.
“It was partly a function of where I chose to apply,” Sender said. “I’m in a progressive discipline, but others who are in the engineering or medical schools might not be taken as seriously.”
Still, both professors continue to assert that in today’s world, universities — and particularly private universities in the northeast, Gross added — remain the best in terms of tolerance.
“Things have changed…. The culture has changed,” Gross said.

December 6, 2002

Reporters

The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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