The Red Line
80 percent of students who voted in last week’s referenda voted “yes” on a questionasking whether Harvard University should advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. “Comprehensive immigration reform” refers to a federal plan to, among other things, provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented Americans—including the family members of the young adults who have already qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provides a means for undocumented students and veterans to reside in the country and find jobs without fear.
This referendum made sense for all the reasons stated by its sponsor, Harvard College Act on a DREAM. They argued in the UC’s “pro” statement that Harvard previously supported the DREAM Act, which has now become part of a larger comprehensive immigration bill; that “hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the country” already advocate for comprehensive immigration reform; that “if immigration reform fails to pass this year, the 40 undocumented students currently at the college will be left with no legal avenue to adjust their immigration status.” Yet I still find it interesting that there was such a strong student consensus that Harvard should support comprehensive immigration reform—which might include spending money to lobby US Congress.
At The Harvard Shop, where I work part-time as a sales associate, Harvard ID holders get 20 percent off almost everything in the store. In practice, people who make use of this discount are usually first-year undergraduates, middle-aged adults in expensive two-week executive education programs, and Harvard staff who desperately need an umbrella on their way to work. Sometimes, though, I run into boundary cases. A research assistant at a Harvard-affiliated hospital. A contracted worker with a temporary access pass that looks like a student ID. Do these people hold Harvard IDs? It’s a question that should never come up outside of the very constructed situation of The Harvard Shop’s discount—but who holds a Harvard ID might have significant implications for “who belongs” in the Harvard community.
A few years ago, Aviva Chomsky wrote a short essay on the oft-unquestioned privilege of holding a U.S. Passport. Chomsky notes, “When you get your U.S. passport in the mail, it comes with a flyer that says ‘With your U.S. passport, the World is Yours!’”—yet most who can easily obtain a U.S. passport don’t even realize the extensive access and legal protection they gain by holding one. I am afraid that in Harvard’s growing empire, the Harvard ID may come to take some of the same significance of the U.S. passport in allowing access to space and power.
Yesterday, as I was sitting in the lobby of Emerson Hall, a youngish man came up and asked where he could find the psychology department. I pointed him across campus to William James Hall, rolling my eyes just a little bit—after all, Emerson does have “PHILOSOPHY” engraved in stone above its front entrance.
Perhaps this man was a very confused prospective graduate student. Perhaps, though, he was simply reading a map from the first half of the 20th century: From its construction in 1905 until the opening of William James Hall in 1946, Emerson Hall housed most of Harvard’s psychology library and laboratories. In fact, for many decades, philosophy, natural science, and experimental psychology were incontrovertibly disciplinarily connected.
Last month, I got an email from a recruiter. An associate of Teach For America, citing a minor leadership role in a student organization as evidence that I “have distinguished [myself] as a leader here on Harvard’s campus,” asked me to meet with Harvard’s TFA representative on campus. Dropping phrases like “race and class,” “equal opportunities,” and “educational injustice,” the recruiter promised that I could have a significant impact on a classroom in an underserved community.
I have thought for many years about teaching high school history. But I stopped replying to this email after a few exchanges.