Embrace the Absurd

December 05, 2012


Reading period starts today. This means that if you are a Harvard student, you are almost certainly generally juggling 150 percent of your personal capacity and doing each task somehow at 30 percent motivation. Maybe you aren’t sleeping. At times, you and your friends will trade frustrations: “I don’t even believe what I’m arguing,” they’ll say. Or, “This has zero application to real life.”

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Not Just Immigration

November 28, 2012


Ever since they took a major hit in the election three weeks ago, Republicans have been discussing how they will face the major demographic shifts that account, at least in part, for their losses. In short, the groups who have traditionally voted for Republicans in the last 20 years—white, older married people—are an increasingly smaller percentage of the population of the United States. Or, less tactfully, they are dying out. As one writer put it: “Contrary to much conventional wisdom, voters do not necessarily grow more conservative as they age; until the last decade, a majority of both younger and older voters both tended to go to the winner of the presidential election.” It’s only at this particular point in our country’s history that older people vote very differently—largely because they are more white, more married, and just plain old more conservative than younger Americans. Each year, fewer of these older people are around to vote.

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Revise the Policy

November 14, 2012

When (or, more realistically given a certain level of apathy to the UC on campus, if) you vote for your Undergraduate Council President sometime between today and Friday, you’ll also have the option of asking Harvard to examine its policies on sexual assault.

The ballot measure, which grew out of an earlier petition, asks for a couple of key measures. One is as adopting a standard of “affirmative consent,” which sounds redundant but in fact is meaningful. The term refines the definition of consent from “not saying no to sex” to “saying yes to the sex with words or clearly enthusiastic actions.” This is necessary not to harshly punish people caught in seemingly ambiguous situations, but rather to prevent these situations from being as ambiguous in the first place. It rejects the “gatekeeper” model of sexual consent, where one partner, usually a woman, rejects sex repeatedly before finally “giving in,” a model normalizes sex after one party says no repeatedly. It sets the requirement of clear communication up front, and it puts the onus on someone pursuing sex to receive clear communication that their advances are wanted rather than only requiring them to stop if they get a signal it isn’t. It requires and encourages equal agency for both partners.

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Tenure and Gender

October 31, 2012

In case you didn’t notice during class selection this fall, female professors are a bit scarce at Harvard. In fact, women continuously hold many fewer higher-level positions and tenure than men at elite universities. Harvard’s most recent Faculty Trends report states, “Over the last four years women have made up between 25 and 26 percent of the ladder faculty. With respect to rank, women currently represent 22 percent of tenured faculty and 36 percent of tenure-track faculty.” In short, women consistently make up about one fifth of tenured faculty, even though they represent about one third of those eligible for it. They aren’t just underrepresented in academia; they are also underrepresented among tenured academics. (The statistics on minorities, which deserve an opinion piece of their own, are equally unrepresentative of the population of the United States.) Of course, the idea that this gender imbalance is a problem rests on two premises: that we should have higher numbers of elite women academics, and that we don’t because of discrimination or bias—something systematically unfair.

The first seems practically self-evident to this particular Harvard student for the very basic, almost simplistic reason that I like having female professors. I see myself in them; their success encourages me. I can ask them to dinner without feeling awkward. On a purely anecdotal level, they show a lot more interest in my wellbeing. But beyond my feelings on the matter, it is obvious that women have half the minds of this world, and their apparent exclusion thus likely means worse scholarship. Such exclusion appears likely knowing that the problem extends to women who are already brilliant and accomplished enough to be tenure-tracked at Harvard.

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Pills Over Progress

October 17, 2012

I was eight. My third grade teacher, in a moment I forgot or perhaps repressed (but my parents remember), told me “you didn’t think you were succeeding, did you?” The doctors made the increasingly widespread diagnosis, Attention Deficit Disorder, and offered medication, warning that it could stunt growth, cause anxiety, and even occasionally trigger psychosis. My parents took me home. Instead of medication I got a “504 Plan”: small changes in my environment that made a surprising difference. My tests stopped being timed. I no longer had to copy things from the board. I was allowed to walk around the classroom if I didn’t disturb other children.

I suppose the punch line to this story might be that I’m succeeding academically now (“aren’t I?”). But that isn’t really the point. I was diagnosed in the most educated neighborhood in America, and my parents, despite both working full-time, were willing to spend hours a day walking me through math problems until I did them on my own. They also had money for doctors and the support of the school system. My success shouldn’t really be a surprise—although I imagine it would be to my third-grade teacher—because ADD is not about intelligence, but learning style.

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