In the past year or so, Harvard and its student body have propelled such varied causes as the Sudanese divestment movement, the problem of gender inequality in the academy, admissions reform, and workers’ rights to higher profiles in global discourse—concretely advancing human flourishing and social justice at home and abroad. It is difficult to come to terms with this immense privilege that Harvard students possess in influencing change because it requires an honest confrontation with responsibility, collaboration, and sacrifice—three values that are decidedly incongruent with the mass-marketed “College!” ethos of MTV Spring Break imaginaries. I believe that Harvard students—at their most thoughtful—wrestle with the problem of how to have a college experience that is at once gratifying, fun, and exciting but that still coheres with a greater responsibility that comes with privilege in a world where it is poorly distributed.
It is rare to find this kind of serious thoughtfulness and sincere passion in students who have just arrived on campus, but it was these qualities I saw in Amadi P. Anene ’08 and Kyle A. De Beausset ’08 from the first day I met them as a senior and a First-Year Urban Program leader. In no time, I came to know them as inquisitive, hard-working, passionate, fun, and— above all—as good people; the kind that inspire others and make the spaces they inhabit better for having known their spirit.
It is, in part, the energy from people like Amadi and Kyle that inspired me and a group of other seniors to form “Vote or Die,” the initiative to increase diversity on the Undergraduate Council (UC) and collaboration with student groups. Amadi made sure that the initiative itself did not die, and two years later, Vote or Die can claim a phenomenal success once unimaginable: one-fourth of the UC identifies as black—up from four percent in 2003.
I highlight this accomplishment for a reason. Every election season, a host of usually all-white, all-male tickets stand before a host of student groups they have never visited, worked with, or shown interest in, and pay lip service to the importance of diversity. This does not cohere with the values of responsibility, collaboration, and sacrifice we search for. Do not mistake this for anything but what it is—a sign that if a particular path is not already well worn by the easy travel of others, it shall be a path untaken by these so-called leaders. They will always feel a disquieting comfort in the welcoming arms of privilege.
I respect Amadi and Kyle because they are genuine leaders who have not traveled the anointed path to leadership. On a campus long-wracked by tensions along gender lines, Amadi was one of those who pushed for the long-overdue realization of a Women’s Center on campus, through the UC and the pages of The Crimson. Where others, blinded by their own privilege or rendered silent by the lingering stigma of class that quietly stratifies Harvard’s student body, remained silent on problems like the exorbitant cost of academic books, Amadi put forward and secured funding for an innovative plan. His idea, the Course-Cost Assistance Program, now needs his two years of UC experience to be shepherded through the Harvard bureaucracy to become a reality.
Kyle’s work on and off campus has also been nothing short of amazing. As a freshman, he worked closely with me on a number of extraordinarily successful projects like the Unite Against AIDS Summit and the Darfur divestment campaign—both of which exhibited the “culture of collaboration” that is necessary for Harvard’s student body to maximize its fullest potential and talent as world leaders and fellow students. On a campus where too many students try to “stick to their own” Kyle, who is “white,” reached out and became a valued and active member of groups like the Black Men’s Forum. Now, Kyle is working as the Co-Director for the Students Taking on Poverty (STOP) Campaign, which he helped start. All of this is to say nothing of his own personal sacrifice and commitment to change, demonstrated last year as he left the United States to return to Guatemala to provide relief for Hurricane Stan, found a development project, and document the heart-wrenching and harrowing experiences of Latin American immigrants.
It is always an intriguing process when leaders gather together to choose their leadership. Where we might expect to see a demand for challenging visions of change or decisive commitments to the values we endorse, instead we sadly find ourselves struggling against the same currents of convention and paralyzing fear of youthful energy that characterize our larger societal malaise. I hold out hope, however, that at least this time in this moment, Harvard’s student body—all of whom are leaders in some respect—can tap enough into their own optimism and passion to recognize the significance of their current situation and what it demands of their leaders. Amadi Anene and Kyle de Beausset are two people who can meet and exceed these demands, helping Harvard to realize all that it is and all that it can be.
Brandon M. Terry ’05 was a government and African and African American studies concentrator in Lowell House. He was the Michael von Clemm Fellow at Corpus Christi College at the University of Oxford, and is now a Ph.D. candidate in political science and African-American studies at Yale University.
A FEW QUESTIONS FOR AMADI and KYLE
If you could do one thing as UC president what would it be? Establish an extracurricular review to create collaboration across social boundaries
What is the most important quality you will bring to the office? Experience with actualizing a vision for change at Harvard
What has been the UC’s greatest recent success? Creating the College Events Board for better social programming
What has been the UC’s greatest recent failure? Its failure to revamp its poor and untrafficked Web site
What is your favorite dining hall food? Spaghetti and Meatballs