A Different Mirror

A Different Mirror

by

Ronald Takaki

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Harvard University Symbol Analysis

Harvard University Symbol Icon

As the oldest university in the US, Harvard has played an important role in the building of the nation. Takaki’s mentions of Harvard in A Different Mirror is less focused on the university’s role as a center of knowledge, and more on the part it has played in producing the social hierarchy of America. Who could or could not attend Harvard was often a metric of how integrated, accepted, and assimilated a particular ethnic group was thought to be. However, as Takaki shows, this manifested in a complex way. For example, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, who was Harvard’s president in the early 20th century, welcomed the Irish into the student body. Lowell believed that the Irish would assimilate and blend well into American society, and his acceptance of the Irish at Harvard helped promote Irish social standing. At the same time, Lowell was responsible for installing Harvard’s Jewish quota in the 1920s. Nonsensically, he argued that Harvard was the least anti-Semitic place imaginable, but that it was also necessary to limit Jewish enrolment to ensure that anti-Semitism didn’t take root there. By contrasting the examples of Harvard’s treatment of Irish and Jewish students, it becomes possible to see that Harvard was a measure or funnel through which the nation’s white elite was produced. Through their acceptance by institutions like Harvard, Irish people became seen as white, and took positions among the elite of the country. For Jewish students, it was much longer before they were seen as “assimilable” and accepted into whiteness.

Harvard University Quotes in A Different Mirror

The A Different Mirror quotes below all refer to the symbol of Harvard University. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay edition of A Different Mirror published in 2008.
Part 2, Chapter 6: Fleeing “the Tyrant’s Heel” Quotes

President Abbott Lawrence Lowell viewed the Irish favorably and highlighted Harvard's role in assimilating them into American society. “What we need,” he had explained earlier, “is not to dominate the Irish but to absorb them. We want them to become rich,” he added, “send their sons to our colleges, and share our prosperity and our sentiments.” In his opinion, however, such inclusionism should be reserved for certain groups. The "theory of universal political equality” he argued, should not be applied to "tribal Indians," "Chinese," or "negroes under all conditions, [but] only to our own race, and to those people whom we can assimilate rapidly." Lowell added that the Irish were unlike Jewish immigrants: they were Christian as well as culturally similar to Americans of English origin. The Irish could, therefore, become "so merged in the American people that they would not be ‘distinguished as a class.’”

Related Characters: Ronald Takaki (speaker), Abbott Lawrence Lowell (speaker)
Related Symbols: Harvard University
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 11: The Exodus from Russia Quotes

Expressions of resentment and ethnic epithets began to circulate: "Jews are an unassimilable race, as dangerous to a college as indigestible food to man." […]

President Abbott Lawrence Lowell announced that the college had a "Jewish problem" and led efforts to curb their enrollment. "It is the duty of Harvard," he wrote privately in a letter to a member of the Board of Overseers on March 29, 1922, "to receive just as many boys who have come, or whose parents have come, to this country without our background as we can effectively educate; including in education the imparting, not only of book knowledge, but of ideas and traditions of our people. Experience seems to place that proportion at about 15%."

Related Characters: Ronald Takaki (speaker), Abbott Lawrence Lowell (speaker)
Related Symbols: Harvard University
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:
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A Different Mirror PDF

Harvard University Symbol Timeline in A Different Mirror

The timeline below shows where the symbol Harvard University appears in A Different Mirror. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: A Different Mirror
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
Shortly after, a Harvard professor named Oscar Handlin argued that immigrants were not just a part of American history;... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5: “No More Peck o’Corn”
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...racism in the North. In 1850, he and two other black men were admitted to Harvard Medical School on the condition that after graduation they would have to move to Africa.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6: Fleeing “the Tyrant’s Heel”
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...white-collar jobs. By the early 1900s, a significant number of Irish students were enrolled at Harvard each year. President Abbott Lawrence Lowell believed that the Irish would and should be assimilated... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11: The Exodus from Russia
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...War, colleges in New York City had a high proportion of Jewish students. By 1920, Harvard was 20% Jewish, and this sparked an anti-Semitic backlash. Lowell publicly announced that although Harvard... (full context)
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
What happened at Harvard was part of a broader “nativist movement.” In 1924, Congress passed an act that severely... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12: El Norte
Unity vs. Division Theme Icon
Whiteness and the Other Theme Icon
Labor, Profit, and the Building of the Nation Theme Icon
Segregation vs. Assimilation Theme Icon
Citizenship, Identity, and the American Dream Theme Icon
...US was alarming many Anglos. In 1937, a group of educators (including President Lowell of Harvard) signed a petition demanding that there be a quota on the number of Mexicans able... (full context)