A Tibetan Point-of-View

I was surprised and disappointed to find out that HBS, shifting responsibility by citing International Olympic Committee criteria, would not allow me to put up the Tibetan flag as part of the section flag raising ceremony or even host a Tibetan table at the International Food festival. These restrictions are fundamentally inconsistent with the core mission of institutions of learning, particularly for one whose motto isÿVeritasÿ(Latin for truth) and whose Community Values exhort respect for “free expression and inquiry, and a commitment to truth.”

An objective analysis of the long history of Tibet as an independent nation until 1951 and its unique historical, cultural, and geographic characteristics would convince most people that Tibet’s claim to self-government is as strong, if not stronger, than many of the countries in the United Nations. The fact that most Tibetans do not accept Chinese rule was very clear last March, when tens of thousands of initially peaceful Tibetan demonstrators were violently repressed by the Chinese government. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibetans, has offered for decades to engage the Chinese leadership through dialogue and compromise, even sacrificing the goal of Tibetan independence and seeking only genuine autonomy within China.

Unfortunately, the Chinese government believes violence and censorship is the best way to deal with differences of opinion, including on the Tibetan issue. This is why I find it particularly unfortunate to think that HBS can be added to the too-long list of institutions unwilling to risk offending an increasingly powerful and belligerent China, even when the offense is taken against the exercise of fundamentally important values such as free speech here in the United States. When HBS itself, cushioned by its position as one of the leading educational institutions in the world, shirks from its responsibility of upholding free speech, its appeal to students to act on our principles in the corporate world rings a little hollow.

ÿI sincerely hope that the students and administration of HBS reconsider the restrictions on the right of students to choose the flags that represent their national identities. The opportunity to truly demonstrate respect for our fellow students and listen to diverse points of view is a precious one, particularly for those of us who are not used to hearing dissenting narratives.ÿ In my section, section H, we have decided not to hang national flags in recognition that one student – me – would be unable to participate. I was truly moved and impressed by the enlightened comments of my section mates during our discussion. Our section has come out much stronger and richer, a step toward broadening our understanding, in the true spirit for which HBS and Harvard University stand.

January 20, 2009
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