My first visit to Counseling and Mental Health Services, I sat across from my clinician on a lime sofa. I folded my legs and mustered up the courage to look my clinician in the eye, my chin perched on my upright arm. “I feel like I’m… behind. I feel like I’m doing so much here, and it’s never enough. And I’m tired. It always feels like everyone’s so ahead and figured out. I feel so unsatisfied, so aimless.” I sank into the sofa a little, folding my arms into my lap.
Ever since coming to Harvard, I’ve struggled with being my authentic self on a daily basis. During my time with CAMHS, I grappled a lot with the relationship between Harvard’s culture of exhaustion and the ever-present imposter syndrome, a localized manifestation of a problem existent at most elite educational institutions — that students might perform peace or even happiness in everyday life, but often experience a constant internal, silent struggle.
One night in the late 1960s, perhaps around this time of year, a group of black male Harvard students left a Radcliffe College dormitory blanketed by the purple haze of an early night. As they headed back to their dorms, their walk was stopped short. A Harvard security officer asked for their IDs; in doing so, he was demanding they prove their right to exist freely on College property. But as the students began to reach for their wallets, they noticed that a group of white males had not been similarly stopped. The black students refused to show their wallets in defiance.
When I read stories like these from Martha Biondi’s “Black Revolution on Campus,” I want to believe that Harvard has outgrown the idea that belonging here requires that we look a certain way or come from a certain background.
The idea of “objective journalism,” the theoretical ability to stay completely neutral in recounting current events, is nice and comforting to think about. It’s also a complete illusion, an utterly ahistorical approach to understanding how journalism affects society.
Objective journalism assumes that all parties in a conversation, or all groups concerned with a single event, have an equal claim to freedom of expression. It therefore assumes that there’s nothing else at stake when covering events of political and social consequence than a difference of opinion.
On October 29, 2018, I skipped class. I hopped into an Uber and headed towards South Boston to attend the trial for Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, an event that would determine the future of affirmative action policy. This was the day that eight current and former students of Harvard College bravely testified to the contributions of race-conscious admissions to the Harvard experience, a rare day when many Harvard students chose to forsake academic responsibilities to witness a piece of history and show their support for their peers on the frontlines. Clumps of bright blue shirts with bold lettering proclaiming “Defend Diversity” dotted the audience, otherwise a sea of black and gray blazers.
Almost a year later, the court has ruled in favor of Harvard’s affirmative action policies. This victory, however short-lived it might be, should be celebrated. Without an attention to race, admissions policies would neglect the social and cultural contexts that have underwritten the experiences of many students of color. While the era of slavery or the struggle for civil rights may appear to be relics of the past, their narratives and truths continue to determine everything from our subconscious biases to the distribution of wealth.
The first time I visited Harvard was a few months before I ever imagined I’d be a student here. Harvard is beautiful in the autumn: My mother and I spent several hours wandering campus under mosaic-like bursts of burgundy and ochre foliage; by the end of the day, we were exhausted. One of my favorite memories from that weekend is resting in the warmth of Crema Café, an inviting hug after a long day of physical and mental strain.
When I returned to campus as a first-year, Crema became a hallmark of my first few semesters. Sure, the café didn’t have Wi-Fi, and the second floor was usually crowded, but I loved the atmosphere, it was a local business, and I’d cultivated an emotional attachment to the place that was hard to shake. Among other things, Crema had a vibrant “community board” situated to the right of its entrance; it captured the various events that were being held in the Cambridge community and always made me feel like a part of something larger than Harvard. So when Crema closed seemingly because of rent practices perpetrated by their new property owner, Asana Partners, I was reasonably devastated.