Alexis Wilkinson Leads Harvard Lampoon Amidst #ITooAmHarvard Dust Up

alexis1-220x222 You may or may not have heard the name Alexis Wilkinson recently. She is the first black president of the iconic humor magazine “The Harvard Lampoon.” Sadly, her history-making appointment comes at a time when the ivy-league university is struggling in response to calls for more diversity. Recently, the #ITooAmHarvard hashtag was born begging the question: When will these historic institutions make racial and gender diversity a priority?

Wilkinson is a Milwaukee native and economics major. She is modest about her new position but said in an interview with NPR that there are some things about writing and comedy that do indeed get her blood boiling.

“And honestly, as a writer, I think we pay a lot of attention to the performative aspect of comedy, but as far as the number of performers go, there’s way more gender and race equality in performance of comedy than there has ever been in writing. Like, no one is paying attention to the fact that, like, there are absolutely, like, no people of color writing for – and, like, shows – a lot of shows that are predominately black don’t have any writers of color in the writers room. And to me, that’s insane, like, it’s 2013. And so those are sort of things that I get more riled up about.”

And she is definitely right. Diversity is not just about what’s on the surface. Behind every performer is a writer, a producer, an editor, a director, and a host of other folks who contribute to the final products we as consumers see. And, while many consumers complain about the dearth of black female performers, very few are aware of the absence of writers of color in the writing rooms and backstage.

There is more to this conversation.

It is the lack of diversity in education and at top tier universities that also points to ongoing issues for people of color. The “I, Too, Am Harvard” photo project started on Tumblr. A very powerful conversation about the weight of race on Harvard’s campus, it points to an ongoing issue with institutional racism and it’s inherent link to self-worth. For many black students on Harvard’s campus, the photo project is an effort to express that they, too, are valuable, valid, and important. Dealing with isolating situations on Harvard’s campus sometimes make them feel otherwise, but they have taken this opportunity to articulate clearly that their personhood is much bigger than their school name.

So, while Wilkinson’s presidency at the foremost academically-based humor mag is historic, it also signals a need on the parts of university officials around the country to truly examine their schools’ treatment of people of color, namely black students. It isn’t enough to say that this young lady is defying the odds or changing the game without making a concerted effort to equalize the playing field for her peers.

We have a lot of work to do. Wilkinson can’t reverse the stigmas, isolation, and separation on her own. Hopefully, Harvard officials will step up to make this right for every student of color who walk their hallowed halls.

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