Nietzache would have called it an outlet for "internalized aggression;" the Harvard "Regulations for Students" call it a reason for expulsion. But for over-worked, exam-beset Harvard students from time immemorial, it's been the Riot.
Student protest at Harvard is almost as old as the College itself--and so is administration opposition. The statues of the College are quite explicit about large student gatherings for reasons not altogether academic--"The mere presence of a student at a disturbance or unauthorized demonstration makes him liable to disciplinary action.
Once upon a time this action consisted of a sound caning, dealt out by the Headmaster. More contemporary measures have included tear gas, police dogs, and good old-fashioned arrest.
The earliest Harvardians seem to have been aroused only by food. The first Harvard insurrection, in 1766, was prompted by the serving of sour butter a thing distasteful to the gentlemanly and tasteful undergraduates. The Great Butter Rebellion, which lasted a month, was finally eulogized by one of the insurrectionists in a Biblical testament entitled "The Book of Harvard":
"And it came to pass in the ninth month on the 23rd day of the month, that the sons of Harvard murmured and said.
"Behold! bad and unwholesome butter is served out unto us daily.
"Then arose Asa, the Scribe, and went unto Belcher, the Ruler, and said, 'behold, our butter stinketh, we cannot eat thereof: now, give us, we pray thee, butter that stinketh not.
"And Belcher the Ruler said, 'trouble me not, but be gone unto thine own place;' but Asa obeyed him not.
"Then Edward the Chief ruler and the other rulers [President Edward Holyoke and Faculty] consulted together and said.
"Now let us punish Asa the Scribe, and make him confess before all Harvard."
"So in the tenth month, and on the 11th day of the month, the Great Sanherdin of Harvard [the Board of Overseers] met, and many of the Sons of Harvard were prevailed upon by the Threatenings of the Members of the Great Sanhedrin and confessed.
"So after this there were no more murmurings at Harvard, but all was Peace and Quietness as it is to this Day, Cambridge, November 19, 1766."
But the promise of "Peace and Quietness" proved as hollow, as the students' stomachs. The Great Rebellion of 1768, incited once again, by the low quality of college food, also lasted for a month, and proved equally fruitless.
As the Revolutionary War drew near, patriotic devotion eclipsed the undergraduates' voracity. Rioting broke out only once, when two Tory students brought tea into the dining hall in 1775.
Five years later occurred the most effective rebellion in Harvard's history; it was also the shortest and mildest. A large group of student simply gathered in the Yard to draw up a list of complaints against President Samuel Langdon, and demanded his dismissal. Shortly thereafter, Langdon quietly submitted his resignation.