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Standing With, Not Above

By Lauren A.E. Schuker

In the spring of 2003, University President Lawrence H. Summers was quoted as using the phrase “camp Harvard” to suggest an overemphasis on extracurricular activities at the college, sparking a flurry of debate over the merits of learning “outside the classroom.” Although Summers quickly issued a correction, claiming he was “not aware of having used that phrase [but] I did once use the phrase ‘camp counselor’ to refer to some of the functions of House tutors,” the point remained.

This statement came in the wake of the firing of the former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, who wrote in a letter to Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby that past February that “it has never been thought that the main goal of Harvard College should be to produce the next generation of university professors or that our curriculum and pedagogy should be designed in service of that end.” The main goal of Harvard College aside, I’ve found during my time here at Harvard that my most important educational moments have occurred in the extracurricular rather than the purely academic realm.

Covering the law school dean search as a young, freshman reporter, I had the opportunity to talk with law professors about their fields and their academic writing. Covering the curricular review afforded me the opportunity to look back at Harvard’s tumultuous educational history and even build up an “emeritus” section in my phonebook.

But my extracurricular pursuit at The Crimson not only gave me access to the professors who make this University great. It also taught me many practical lessons, foremost among them, that leadership is about standing with others, not standing above them—a lesson that I could not have acquired in the classroom, where the professor stands above, removed from the students, lecturing from the podium.

All around us, we see images of power embodied in those who rise above others—the John Harvard statue and the spatial arrangement of the lecture hall come to mind—suggesting that propping oneself up on a pedestal above others is the strategy for success.

As a young reporter, I found such a pedestal seductive. I discovered the allure of seeing one’s name atop an article, the ego-boost of the byline, as seasoned journalists call it. The possibility of having one’s name in bold type at the top of an article—or the masthead—was something that attracted many people, including me.

But over time, I also learned that it was better to resist than to give in to the temptation of the pedestal. I saw that the best leaders were those who were willing to lean on others for support, and, in turn, willing to lend their support where and when it was most needed. As a freshman reporter on The Crimson, nothing seemed better than a byline; as president of the paper, it was precisely the reverse.

That lesson was learned through my time at The Crimson. It was there that I first saw leadership as a reciprocal act, a two-way street, when my editors let us reporters lead the way on stories even though we were two years their junior. And when I became president, I felt as if I was leading most effectively when I stood with others instead of apart from them, when I stood behind and below others—by using my pedestal to support them, instead of separating myself. This lesson is not one that can be learned in the classroom, even in a “psychology of leadership” class.

That lesson resonates in the bronze form of an intriguing sculpture that is tucked away on the mall on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston—the Boston Women’s Memorial. Unlike the John Harvard statue, the Women’s Memorial portrays our cultural heroes as accessible: when you visit the site, you can see that each woman holds a pen, frozen in the act of writing something down. When you pass the John Harvard statue, by contrast, all you can really see is the polished toe of his shoe because he sits far above us, looking down

The Memorial displays three famous women leaders—Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Lucy Stone—all cast in bronze. But the women are not free-standing sculptures; rather, their delicate bodies, obscured in part by drapery, are supported by large, sturdy, geometric blocks of granite. Although my first thought upon viewing the sculpture was that it emphasized these women’s weaknesses, with time, I came to realize that it too emphasized the lesson that leadership was not about standing above, but standing with.

Fortunately, during my time as Crimson president, I had more inspiring—and mobile—things to stand with, or lean on than blocks of granite, from our ever-patient press operator who has never missed a day of work and arrives at 5 a.m. every morning to roll the presses in our basement, to the news editors, reporters, photographers, designers, business editors, and office staffers who work tirelessly so the paper can come out each morning.

Like so many other seniors, it was outside the classroom that I discovered the truest form of leadership comes from the kind of teamwork and solidarity that I’ve been fortunate to share with my peers and mentors here. And while I’m grateful for my time in the classroom, I hope that Harvard will continue to promote “camp Harvard,” at least enough to allow future undergraduates to discover this lesson on the ground rather than from the pedestal.

Lauren A.E. Schuker ’06, who was president of The Crimson in 2005, is an English and American literatures and languages concentrator in Kirkland House.

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