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An Even Bigger Disappointment

And a slightly more realistic one, too

By Paul R. Katz

There was a time––a recent time, mere weeks ago––when I would have thought myself to be mortal like the rest of you. That moment has, of course, passed.

If I had any doubt that I sit enthroned at the very center of the universe, it has been obliterated by the attention my opinions have commanded. Complete strangers, now subjects to my wisdom, have proffered me distinguished titles, anointing me a “raging douche-bag,” or a “deplorably intolerant” bigot more than ready for a “lesson in humility and tolerance.” One correspondent even went so far as to suggest that I gormandize a particularly unappetizing portion of his anatomy. Uncomfortable, perhaps, but the kind spirit underlying the recommendation I appreciated nonetheless.

Secure in my knowledge that I am not only the smartest, but also the most important, person alive, I could, I suppose, choose now to rest leisurely upon my laurels. Instead, I have elected to seize the moment and offer a second recommendation to an adoring readership. This time around, though, it may actually make sense.

If I have learned anything in the last week, it is that many of us—whether we recognize it or not—surround ourselves with those we most resemble. Our college is in many ways a conglomerate of independent groups of similarly oriented students, each of these groups being large enough so as to disguise its essentially closed nature. These groups are based upon our roster of activities, the classes we take, and the company we regularly keep. They not only suggest a lack of open communication across our student body, but also invite the potential for animosity on a frighteningly wide scale.

It is the divide between these sub-communities, after all, that has made it possible for large swaths of our campus to hold entirely contradictory opinions concerning, among other things, which topics of conversation are sufficiently “intellectual,” what constitutes a substantial contribution to academic discourse, and whether the tenth of our class recruited for athletics belongs here. It is this divide that has allowed for the very worth of whole groups of students—be they athletes, members of minority groups, artists, or myriad others—to come regularly and publicly under attack. And it is this divide that prevents many of us from identifying with our peers and with our school.

Certainly, Harvard does not stand alone in the face of such divisiveness. But the College is particularly well poised to enable its students to overcome it. While we at Harvard may think that oceans of difference separate us from our peers, to the outside world, we are all just Harvard students. Whether we scored a 1600 or (gasp!) a 1350 on our SATs, all of us are subject to the same skeptical glances and the same odd combination of reverence and resentment from the strangers we meet outside the confines of the Yard. As different as we may seem to each other, in the eyes of many, we are all the same: rich (or soon-to-be rich) members of a privileged elite poised to inherit the world. While our critics may misjudge us, let our common position in the minds of millions bind us together.

And let the House system bring us beyond the confines of our sub-communities. Each meal in our houses is an opportunity to interact, from a position of relative security, with those we might ordinarily ignore. Simply dragging a friend along to a table of VES concentrators or varsity athletes and engaging in open conversation would do more to shatter misconceptions and improve the strength of our undergraduate community than secretly wishing away entire subgroups of our peers ever could.

Perhaps a moment of common humility—I am, I realize, ideally situated to lecture on this particular virtue—will convince us all that any attempt to define Harvard along exclusionary lines is a radical affront to our complex undergraduate population. Until then, I shall simply have to resign myself to the fact that a strong college community simply doesn’t exist at Harvard.

Paul R. Katz ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Hurlbut Hall.

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