Last Thursday's rally was certainly inspiring. Roughly 700 students gathered to hear speakers ranging from Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) President Vincent Pan '95-'96 to Mayor of Cambridge Kenneth E. Reeves '72 support the students in their quest for "empowerment." We would like to reiterate our support for PBHA and compliment them on a well-organized and publicized rally which addressed the important issue of student voice and power.
The rally was the largest manifestation of student opinion since the legendary Harvard activism of 1969. In addition, the presence of many prominent speakers--including Professor Robert Coles '50, Reeves and City Councilor Francis H. Duehay '55--showed that PBHA enjoys strong local support. An endorsement of PBHA's cause also came from the Boston City Council.
However, we would also like to express concern that while this rally left us with a warm, fuzzy feeling about the power within ourselves, it didn't leave us with a very clear sense of purpose. The most distinct and important theme of the rally was the fact that the administration is not responsive to student needs. Some specific examples of this were mentioned by speakers; the PBH controversy, randomization and the razing of Carey Cage. The solution to this problem seems to be the "empowerment" that PBHA organized this rally to foster.
Unfortunately, "empowerment" is not a terribly tangible goal. We know the administration doesn't listen to us and respect us. The rally reminded us of this. But it did not give us a sense of how to fix this problem, of how to become empowered. The speakers didn't call for sit-ins. They didn't call for the replacement of Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68. They didn't call for a complete alumni boycott of the University's capital campaign in protest. They didn't even call for any specific administrative response to the crisis that precipitated the rally: the hiring of Assistant Dean for Public Service Judith H. Kidd. Instead, they took shots at the administration, reminded Harvard students of how special we are, and called repeatedly for the vague sweetness of "empowerment."
Thursday's rally was exciting and refreshing but it didn't leave us with the sense that there is something that we must do. This does not mean that we don't think the rally was worthwhile; in fact, just bringing the subject of the lack of student voice to the foreground was a major step. However, what the rally needed to do was to take that all-important second step and provide its listeners with a sense of purpose. Otherwise, with no specific plan of action to grab onto, busy Harvard students will let the issues slip into the back corners of their minds. Indeed, many students interviewed after the rally mentioned that it felt unfocused and vague.
And so we would like to stress to the members of the Harvard community that their role in strengthening the student voice is not over simply because they attended the rally. Instead, students and those who care about the students need to remain alert and informed of the issues. We all need to assume the responsibility of monitoring the administration closely, and we need to be prepared to speak up, write letters and petition if it looks like the College is going to make a decision that is egregiously contrary to student needs or opinion.
Most importantly, those who attended the rally in support of public service should not let this be the end of their activism. We would like to see students working to ensure that the newly independent PBHA survives its separation from the University. We hope that the administration now understands exactly how important public service is to the Harvard community and will work with the students rather than against them in the future.