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Harvard’s NCAA Dreams Belie Less Than Stellar Reality on Campus

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

You may not like Harvard because it busted your bracket going for the fake Buffet Billions. Even non-math types knew there was a statistical joke going on with Buffet having the edge. You hit a 1 in 9.2 quintillion shot and Buffet only pays you a billion? Sucker. It makes the lottery seem reasonable. And that’s madness.

But that’s all right, because Harvard in the NCAA made me watch. It’s not often the overdogs get to be the underdogs, except in the NCAA tournament where Harvard turned us all into dreamers.

With a starting five of four African-Americans, the team almost gave Michigan State a real scare. The Crimson played nerdy at first, but then tied the game with nine minutes to go. It was like a reading period revival ready to ace the entire year. But then, slowly, the team realized it wasn’t going to get there.

What the hell. They’re still Harvards, right?

But was it time to break out the “I, too, am Harvard” selfie?

If you’re not familiar with the #ItooamHarvard phenomenon, it was started by Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, a sophomore who noticed that the Ivy League school was still full of thorns for people of color.

The pictures show some of Harvard’s African-American students holding up a sign with an outrageous quote directed at them during their Harvard experience.

Things like: “You’re lucky to be black…so easy to get into college.”

Or: “You don’t sound black.”

I was shocked to see that, in nearly 40 years, not much had changed.

When I went to school there, I remember getting turned down by the poet Elizabeth Bishop for her poetry seminar. But the creative writing class in Afro American Studies welcomed me with open arms.

And I got the part in a school play—in the Black theater. I played a White guy.

I was there when there were still more Asians from patrician Asian families than normal, average Asian Americans. That’s changed more than a little bit.

But back then, I don’t know where I would have been without the discoveries I made in that Afro American Studies Department. It’s said that, in the late 1800s, W.E.B. DuBois talked of being “in Harvard, but not of Harvard.”

When I look at the current students holding up their signs, I definitely could relate because I felt the same way.

Ultimately, it was my African-American experience in Cambridge that kept me sane and made me realize that #ItoowasHarvard.

I just didn’t have social media around to let me know I wasn’t alone.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (  Like him at ; twitter@emilamok

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