As you begin your first few weeks at Harvard, you will undoubtedly hear hollow speeches from our administration. They will tell you that the next four years of your lives will be a transformative experience and that you’ll all go on to be world-changers. These speeches usually end with a call to live up to our motto, Veritas, to search for “the truth.” That is, of course, as long as this truth doesn’t upset the status quo.
Because when truth demands change, it is swept under the carpet — and Harvard is no exception.
What the administration is not going to tell you is that Harvard is designed to maintain the status quo when it comes to social change and justice. They prefer incremental but inconsequential reforms that let you give yourself a pat on the back. You will distract yourself with snobbish discussions in dining halls about political and social theory so you never end up confronting the real question: Am I actually bringing this world closer to freedom and justice? Is our institution, an infamous pipeline to finance and consulting, genuinely helping?
Some people at Harvard will argue that they don’t know much about politics. Others will tell you that they don’t get involved because they don’t want to upset anyone. Then there’s the cherry on top of social ignorance: “It’s too controversial.” As Harvard students, we are already immensely privileged, but these hesitant excuses to remove ourselves highlight a deafening indifference to the reality we live in. Marginalized and targeted communities around the world do not have the choice to be ignorant of politics: They are born into politics and must endure it on a near daily basis.
The cold reality is that in order to change oppressive and systemically violent systems, you have to upset powerful institutions. Why? Because these institutions, Harvard included, have benefitted and still benefit economically and politically from the subjugation of others. If you really start to push, Harvard knows there are real stakes on the line: its money and power.
Apologies for bursting the everyone-hold-hands-in-harmony bubble, but the poisonous narrative of “respect everyone’s opinions” breeds political passivity. I can already hear apologists beg marginalized groups to stop being angry and relax — to call for everyone to be friends and love one another.
But the reality is that administrations who claim to fearlessly pursue truth only promote stale dialogues. Student activists argue that the prison-industrial complex maintains a systemically violent, racist state and demands divestment. The administration gets up and says that Harvard should not use its endowment to “achieve political …….