Opining From the Chair
#2016. We MADE it! We’re at Harvard, baby, and we have perfect 20/20 vision. We’ve got goals on goals on goals. This place is going to be ours. All that hard work has finally paid off, and the next four years are going to be fantastic.
Opening days has prepared us for everything. Do you think we should comp this club? Wait, really? Is that what you heard from that cultural group? Oh, we don’t know, then. Even still, we might as well give it a try. Who knows? Things could be different! We’re going to take all these big intro classes this semester: computer science, economics, life sciences, government. (It’s okay if no one we know has done this before — and it would be nice if we had help — but we’re sure it’ll be okay.) It’s all green here, you know? Ripe for the picking. Our picking. This place is going to be ours.
Outwardly, Harvard students present as innovators. To others, we’re elite college progressives who challenge the current system, demanding it to align with us and our values. We’re socially conscious learners, the “snowflakes” bending the storm to weather to our will. We write. We protest. We rally. We advocate. We scrape change out of this place and cast the remnants of an antiquated system from under our fingernails.
To some extent, there’s some truth to this perception. The people, education, and experiences on this campus force us to think beyond ourselves and imagine a future we actively design. But social politics on our campus tell a different story.
When we think of activism, writing — perhaps a blog post or a tweet — is not the first thing that comes to mind. Activism seems to invoke something more bodily: picketing, marching, signs thrust in the air for hours, yelling into a bullhorn until your voice is hoarse, your point hopefully communicated. A collection of words strung together on a page doesn’t carry quite the same tune as a protest chant.
Yet there is something to be said about the momentum of the written word. It can be a powerful thing in the activist’s toolbox for promoting a limitless set of causes, even if the tools of writing itself are quite different from what one might expect to see at a rally: a couple of keystrokes, backspacing, or a play with a punctuation mark or two. But not always appreciated is the ability to have a universal audience at one’s fingertips, to have the ability to share one’s voice precisely and thoughtfully, or advocate for a particular reform. This is powerful.
These days, it’s all about quick takes. Opinions are formed and expressed all across campus at a fever pitch, especially in an environment as newsworthy as Harvard. Each time a new, even mildly controversial article appears, an equal and opposite Twitter thread or group chat emerges almost instantaneously, quick to critique and condemn. While sometimes the topic in question appears to lend itself to a simple judgement, too often students are quick to rush to opine without knowing all the facts. Opinions are made on the basis of a single headline without even thinking about the larger story and editorial decisions behind them. It is nothing less than a cancel culture, hell-bent on swallowing ledes and handing down verdicts without appeal.
Part of this is because of our campus. The many ambitious students — otherwise known as future “citizen-leaders” — who form our community tend to come down hard on an issue, often to display the depths of their knowledge, perspective, or subjectivity. This is not to say that these opinions are not valuable on our campus. (It would be blasphemous for us to even think so, and write it in an opinion piece, no less.) This desire also isn’t absolute: It does not happen with every student, or on every issue. But it’s important to see what this opinion-based pressure implies: a lack of objectivity within our campus.