Harvard’s Cultural Groups: Opportunities to Belong

Harvard is well known for having an incredibly diverse student body. With students from fifty states and all corners of the globe, it is difficult to paint a visual picture of a “typical” Harvard student. In accordance with the expansive ethnic diversity, the College has over 75 cultural groups.  Some are small, such as the Irish-American Society, with 1-9 members, while better known groups such as Hillel, Taiwanese Cultural Society, and Black Men’s Forum have over 100 members. Cultural groups remind minority students that though they are far from home, there are people at Harvard who look, speak, or think as they do.

Cultural groups at Harvard are often looked upon as breeding grounds for exclusivity, is if they encourage people to interact only with others of their own race. However, most students who are involved in extracurriculars at Harvard are part of more than just one club, group, or organization. Harvard students are driven, motivated, and involved people; most of us participated in many extracurriculars at our respective high schools. So why would we resign themselves to associating with only one group of people in college? I believe that the mission of Harvard’s cultural groups is not to alienate their members from the rest of the student body; it is to provide support for minorities on a student to student level within the larger Harvard community.

Cultural groups are hardly separate or disconnected entities. They regularly combine with other ethnic groups for mixers, parties, and discussions. Such groups are not looking to isolate themselves from one another, but to encourage conversation of race relations and what it means to be a minority in America, in college, and at Harvard in particular.

Ethnic groups also reach out to the Harvard community as a whole. In fact, The Chinese Students Association’s Utopia Yacht Party that took place on the Charles River last October was open to students of all races from not only Harvard, but MIT and Boston College as well. Similarly, the Taiwanese Cultural Society hosts NightMarket as a replica of a traditional Taiwanese event that is open to all Harvard Students. Coming up is Harvard’s annual powwow hosted by the Harvard University Native American Program, an event that is open to Harvard students, Native Americans from across the nation, and the general public. Whether or not students of other races choose to attend events such as these are their own decisions. When groups host such events, they publicize them to the entire school because they genuinely want students of all races to attend. The only people who make these events “culture-exclusive” and thus, awkward to attend, are those who decide that they must be.

I consider myself a minority at Harvard and I am active in my respective cultural group. We have community dinners once a week, a social every month, and mixers with other cultural groups. That said, I do not feel leashed to this group. I spend time with my blockmates, class friends, and people I have met through other groups and organizations. My ethnic group is like a little slice of home, but I have other friends too.

Overall, I think that cultural and ethnic groups are an important part of Harvard’s campus life. I have had nothing but positive experiences within my group and I still feel like a part of the larger Harvard community. We could not claim to be a diverse student body if minorities did not have opportunities to embrace and practice their heritage. The plethora of cultural groups makes the Harvard a truly extraordinary place; every student fits in somewhere on a smaller scale than within the general student body. Harvard is made up of an undeniably culturally diverse student body, so embrace this. It is what makes this university such a truly interesting place to be.

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