Harvard University treats the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps like a final club: It refuses to recognize the program. Yet the military is preparing to lift its ban on homosexuals, the ostensible reason for ROTC’s exile. Is President Drew Faust practicing her salute? “There are not currently any plans to modify the arrangement,” John Longbrake, senior director of communications for the University, wrote in an e-mail. “We will of course follow any federal policy changes with interest.”
So will I. Even if Congress repeals “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” ROTC will struggle to gain recognition.
I know little about alcohol. I think Jim Beam is a character from “The Grapes of Wrath.” I think Poland Spring is tonic water. I think golf is a sport. Friends worry about my ignorance because they believe, as a columnist for this newspaper wrote years ago, that “The Harvardian who has never been drunk, who has been too delicate, sensitive and yes, too scared to kneel before King Bacchus…has just plain missed out.”
Rubbish. You can buzz without a beerfest.
Harvardians have their privilege and hate it too—or at least many of them try. They relish the benefits that their degrees bestow: the education, the prestige, the McJobs. But they chafe at the idea that they’re elites, that they’re “better” than everyone else. They know that they’re privileged, for their success is only partly earned.
“Nonsense,” say critics. Harvardians fancy themselves meritocrats. They act like they paid for their just deserts in cash. “For today’s Harvard students, who have passed test after exam and interview upon interview, there is nothing accidental or random about their position in society. They belong exactly where they are,” Ross G. Douthat ’02 wrote in his book “Privilege.”
“In the United States it is almost never said that virtue is beautiful,” Alexis de Tocqueville observed. “They maintain that it is useful and they prove it every day.”
By “they” he clearly meant “Harvardians.” Many students here treat morality like a get-rich-quick scheme: They practice virtue to advance their careers. True, some standards are better than none, but this ethical foundation is flimsy. If morality is merely useful, then it is expendable.
On Halloween, if you donned a headdress and dubbed yourself Squanto, you may have committed racism.
I would give you the benefit of the doubt, but Native Americans at Harvard College might be less indulgent. Last Friday, the club sent students an e-mail entitled, “We Are Not a Costume.” The message urged readers to avoid “culturally insensitive costumes” like “the quintessential Pocahontas or Indian Squaw or the hypersexualized Geisha.” Such outfits, the group warned, “reinforce centuries of cultural stereotypes and racism.”