Restrained Contentment

The spectrum of reviews regarding the past four years are wide and varied. Anecdotally, most have enjoyed their time here, and are hoping to maximize their happiness in their final days as relatively carefree undergraduates.

Others, though, have engaged in a perpetual countdown in days to our graduation, hoping that life after would somehow prove fulfilling in a way that Harvard has not been.

I am, in some ways, a product of both belief sets. The continued realization of the eerily applicable clichés also comes with a sense of regret—that, on some level, the resources not consulted, friendships not made, and places not seen have been an institutional failure, one that could have been avoided had I been better advised to spend time with different people or do different things.

It’s when the latter thought process becomes prominent that it becomes clear for its fallaciousness. Institutional failures certainly exist—my time in charge of the one you are reading helped me learn as much—but an experience made up of so many moving parts, diverse events, and disparate happenings is an institution that we, thankfully, have the most agency on making what we want it to be.

Sometimes, though, we attempt to take that agency beyond its most reasonable and beneficial extreme. We are all tremendously privileged—as evidenced by our mere presence here—so a sense of entitlement is no surprise. This entitlement is in fact, helpful towards the maintenance of certain standards at a place that prides itself on consistently being the best. And true, there are instances where efforts to fundamentally alter some aspect of Harvard’s undergraduate institution are worthwhile.But we undermine our own agency when we become a protest-happy, outrage-fueled student body that is more reactionary than methodical in its approach, more emotional than thoughtful in its line of attack.

The student response to a recent announcement of budget cuts from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in an attempt to make up a $220 million deficit is a sadly glaring example. Safety concerns as a result of cuts in Quad shuttle services (especially in the context of the increasing number of reported crimes as evidenced by police advisories) were well placed, as was anger about the timing and nature of communication (or lack thereof) from the administration regarding the cuts.

But at a rally organized by student leaders to voice displeasure with poor communication from the deans, message discipline was not the order of the day. Were we upset about not being able to eat hot breakfast during the week? Was our outrage directed at our beloved dining hall workers, who might have hours cut as a result of the changes? Or were we simply angry about the fact that we heard about all these changes during the artificially stressful reading period?

The reality is that, for certain students with certain needs or relationships, there was reason to be upset about some of the budget cuts, or the way they were communicated to us. But the majority of those students who will return to Cambridge next fall when the budget cuts have taken place will go about their lives relatively unaffected, or in other cases, with minimal adjustments. Aspects that are significantly debilitating in some way should be addressed, but a catch-all protest against the very generally-defined “out of touchness” of the FAS and College deans only helps to undermine our credibility when there’s a real issue worth protesting. An escalation of the War in Vietnam these budget cuts were not, as our similarly-idealized predecessors of 40 years ago would be quick to remind us.

There are problems with this institution that need addressing. The unfortunate escalation of seemingly racially-motivated incidents by the Harvard Police Department that took place at the beginning of this academic year prompted a substantive effort to determine what could be done to prevent them in the future, a frank admission by HUPD officers of their shortcomings, and a notably conciliatory effort to make some necessary reforms.

But when a now-estranged student cries racism for her apparent complicity in a truly heinous crime, a deadly incident that took place weeks ago in a seemingly safe College residence, it falls deafly on the ears, I think, of those who are in positions of power to make the most important decisions.

It is a truth that became apparent in my own year-long experience as The Crimson’s leader. Our institution is but a microcosm of the one that I have just become an alumnus of, but even on a small scale, it is clear that constant, entitled self-marginalization and victimhood weakens one’s ability to make the very reforms that may be the necessary and right thing to do.

If we have been disappointed by our time at Harvard, perhaps it is worthwhile not to immediately blame the institution. Looking inward, exercising restraint and approaching our final moments here with a mature assessment of both the College’s and our own accomplishments is a worthwhile endeavor.

And if our pragmatic president has taught us anything, it’s that right now, there’s nothing as cool as staying cool.
 
Malcom A. Glenn ’09, a former president of The Crimson, is a history concentrator in Leverett House.