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BSU, PBE Issue Joint Statement

By Andy Stark
Staff Reporter

Phi Beta Epsilon and the Black Students' Union released a joint statement today discussing the tensions and issues brought up by an incident in March 1993 when four black students said they heard racial epithets shouted from a PBE window.

The statement, which appears as an advertisement in The Tech today, were written with two goals in mind, said Steve Wong '94, PBE president. The groups sought to negotiate to resolve the differences between the organizations, and to demonstrate to the community that "major conflicts can be worked out in a rational and civil manner," he said.

The statement itself emphasized the need to present a resolution of the problem to the community. Tommie Henderson '95, a BSU member, said he hoped the statement would convey the message that "the two organizations have come to a point where we feel that the most fruitful thing for us to do is move on."

COD dismisses charges

The original incident occurred on March 13, 1993, when four black students who were walking down Amherst Alley claim they heard racial slurs shouted from a PBE window. PBE maintained that none of its members were guilty of yelling the epithets.

Harassment charges were filed by one of the four students against PBE, and the case was brought to the Committee on Discipline. At a May 8, 1993, hearing, the COD found that the slurs had been shouted but that there was not enough evidence to implicate the students who had been charged, according to Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs.

Following the ruling, both the BSU and PBE felt that more discussion of the issue was needed, according to the joint statement. Meetings began in September 1993 with the goal of producing a joint statement and continued "off and on," according to Henderson. At the meetings, both sides presented ideas that they wanted to convey and went through the process of deciding what to include in the statement.

"In any type of joint statement, of course there will be some things you want to say, but don't state, because the whole point is to come to a common understanding," Henderson said.

With that in mind, the groups agreed to include individual statements giving their own point of view, Wong said. "Each side had problems with some of the other's beliefs," he said, adding that the individual statements were very honest and that neither side attempted to convince the other to change that portion of the statement.

Despite the initial agreement, negotiations at one point broke down entirely, delaying further progress, the statement said. However, Wong said, both sides wanted to get back to the negotiations table and eventually did.

After that, the discussions went more easily, Henderson said. The statement itself was written together by representatives from each side so that "we wouldn't have everyone tossing in their two cents every two seconds," Wong said. The representatives then took the statement back to their own groups for approval.

The two groups "haven't totally made up," Wong said, but he added that "we know that if we continue [arguing] we'll never get anywhere, and that's not the point of race relations, or any other relations."

Projects planned

For the future, the two groups' objectives include a race-relations workshop, a joint community service project, and a jointly-sponsored MIT community event to promote racial awareness, according to the statement.

The most important thing, Henderson said, is to "continue to press the issue [of race relations]."

The joint statement was needed to resolve the conflict, Henderson concluded, so that the issue wouldn't "hang around and [cause MIT] to continue to have hostility between groups on campus."

Overall, Wong said, the statement should be a symbol to the MIT community that race relations can be worked out. "It doesn't always have to be two sides of the fence," he said.