J. Claire Provost

J. Claire Provost ’07 says she did nothing technically illicit on the night of her arrest, when the pint-sized blonde and three like-minded students staged a protest during FBI Director Robert S. Mueller’s talk last month.

Provost did nothing illegal, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t want to.

“I would have loved to rush the stage,” she says. “The FBI is an inherently violent institution. It deserves to be met with a violent response.”

The 21-year-old Ontario native—a self-billed philosophical anarchist with “extreme, radical, and violent” ideas—admits that violence might someday soon be the only moral alternative when protesting power.

“I have no moral issue breaking laws because I have no moral compulsion to obey laws that I, or my community, had no role in creating,” she says. “I can do what I can...I have neither moral nor practical constraints to my actions.”

Even though she is highly skeptical of all things hierarchical—she hates the police, despises the system that propagates marriage as the only way to organize personal lives, and dislikes established institutions like Harvard—Provost denies that she hates, well, everything.

She’s one part political dynamo, one part unrepentant lover, friends say.

“I admire her sense of morality on a number of social issues. I envy her energy,” says Mark M. Higgins ’07. “And she has a great laugh.”

“As a person, I’m really easy-going,” Provost insists. “There are things in this world I absolutely love.”

Provost has a love-hate relationship with the market economy. Seated in the Dunster House courtyard, she dons a detectably African top ($1), snacks on fresh plump strawberries ($5), and shows off her hot-off-the-shelves purchase, a thrift-store turquoise dress with a brown stain to boot ($6 or $7, she estimates).

“I am a hypocrite,” she says, adding that she’s tried dumpster-diving and sewing her own clothes. “To right now divorce myself entirely from the market economy and to retreat into a cottage somewhere to grow my own food and feel less guilty about myself...would be a very insular way to make myself feel good.”

It might seem like the outspoken liberal has it all figured out, but Provost is still a work in progress.

“Everything that happens—she’s always questioning it. Always,” says Kelly L. Lee ’07, one of the four students arrested at last month’s protest. “Sometimes it gets her into trouble, but most of the time, not.”

Provost grapples with “inherent contradictions,” she says, prime among them a complicated relationship with the Harvard degree she receives tomorrow.

“I’ll probably spend most of my life not telling people I have it,” she says. “I came to Harvard to get legitimacy. But it deligitimizes me.”

The special concentrator in urban planning has two paths laid out in front of her. Down one is another multi-million-dollar elite institution, Oxford University, where she would earn a second degree in African Studies. The other leads to the New Left Review, a leftist theory publication in London. She is undecided. In the meantime, she will return to Africa (the site of her last three summers) to conduct summertime research for a professor in Ghana.

“I don’t get a high off of being a fighter­—that’s not how I want to live my life,” she says.

Provost says she’s highly emotional and caring, traits that often conflict with her no-holds-barred tactics in combatting structures of power.

Provost is also a lover of aesthetics. She is a painter, sports a nose ring and is decked in a dozen colorful bracelets. And as of last week, she has, forever inked above her heart, a flower with fists in place of stamen.

“It’s to express the fact that dissent is very natural and organic,” she explains. “Dissent is really beautiful.”

­—Staff writer Robin M. Peguero can be reached at peguero@fas.harvard.edu.