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Columnist Conversations

Student Perspectives on Occupy Harvard

By Marina N. Bolotnikova, Michael F. Cotter, Christine A. Hurd, SANDRA Y.L. KORN, Evan Ribot, and Kathy Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

A selection of Crimson editors respond to Wednesday’s night’s Occupy Harvard protest.

Harvard’s Identity Crisis

Occupy Harvard Wednesday night: listening to the booming rhetoric of Timothy P. McCarthy, hearing the stories of two workers who were fired injudiciously, absorbing the feeling that hundreds of people were in order to pursue change. Occupy Harvard the next day: demonized by a significant portion of the student body, complaints about not being able to walk through the Yard, accusations that the protestors were whiny. However, there was nothing whiny about the chants of "Harvard for the 99 percent,” and there was nothing unsubstantiated about "Banks got bailed out/we got sold out."

At Harvard, there is a deep identity crisis that is not dissimilar to that present amongst the American population. As illustrated by the research of Harvard Business School Professor Michael I. Norton, many Americans think income distribution is more equal than it is—and the overwhelming majority of Americans desire income equality at almost Swedish levels. If anything, those complaining about peaceful protestors sharing the voice of the country are the ones truly out of touch with society. The claim that a temporarily obstructed path to Lamont Library is more important than students uniting with the people is the truly unreasonable one.

Christine Ann Hurd ’13 is a Crimson Arts writer.

HMC and Financial Aid

The Occupy Harvard folks say they want a University for the 99 percent, not a corporation for the one percent. Yet, what if high Harvard Management Company salaries are necessary to allow the financial aid office to shell out record-breaking sums to non-wealthy students? Surely, if there is any moral reprehensibility in paying a few hedge fund managers millions of dollars, it is outweighed by our school’s unequaled ability to ensure that everyone who is admitted can afford to attend.

There seem to be two implicit and false notions within the movement. These are that a) Harvard is not doing everything it can to promote socioeconomic diversity on campus and b) Harvard pays HMC employees more than they have to. Considering Harvard’s ever-increasing financial aid packages—especially the fact that any student from a family making less than $65,000/year (well above the median household income) is not expected to contribute any money for tuition—it seems somewhat farcical to suggest that Harvard doesn’t want increased socioeconomic diversity. As for the latter assumption: I find it equally absurd that Harvard would willfully dole out more money to HMC than need be. The response “I’m sure they could pay them less without letting the endowment take a hit” simply doesn’t cut the mustard. If it were true, they’d do it.

Michael F. Cotter ’14 is a Crimson editorial writer.

We are the One Percent

Thus far, I have disagreed with but tolerated the message spread by the Occupy movement. Although I found the emphasis on targeting a small group and blaming one percent of Americans for broad, sweeping societal problems troubling and misguided, it was easy to understand the frustrations that drove the formation of Occupy Wall Street and the proliferation of its message.

However, watching the Occupy movement manifest itself in a swath of tents propped up in Harvard Yard, complete with signs calling for “a University for the 99 percent,” has dumbfounded me. Like it or not, this school will always represent the one percent. Indeed, a student’s presence here is a reflection of the desire to succeed and be elite.

As Harvard students, we are lucky, blessed, and fortunate beyond our wildest dreams to have access to all that a Harvard education offers us, now and into the future. The real 99 percent would kill for the boundless opportunity to succeed that this group of students seems intent on trivializing.

Evan Ribot ’14 is a Crimson editorial writer.

HUPD’s Role

Some have criticized the Harvard University Police Department reaction to the Occupy Harvard movement, pointing to their firm stand against letting protesters into the Yard and their stations at various gates as unnecessary. Indeed, I witnessed protesters yelling “Shame on you” at HUPD officers. However, the officers were simply carrying out their obligation to protect the student body and Harvard community. The antagonism toward them was unnecessary and detracted from the movement’s points. The Yard is a residential area for most freshmen and now, with Harvard students sleeping outdoors, it is especially important to ensure all of their safety. I generally support the Occupy movements, their goals and think they point to some key concerns our country needs to reckon with. However, the attempt by some affiliated with Occupy Harvard to vilify HUPD was uncalled for.

Kathy Wang ’14 is a Crimson editorial writer.

Mistakes on Both Sides

Observing Occupy Harvard and its multifarious responses has been an extraordinary exercise in evaluating polarizing rhetoric. Occupy Harvard touts Harvard as a fundamentally corrupt institution for the one percent, a perspective that is decidedly dichotomous and downright frightening. That is not to say that Harvard does not have ample room for improvement, but let’s give credit where credit is due: Harvard awards an enormous sum of financial aid to students in need and aggressively seeks to increase its socioeconomic diversity each year. Moreover, as the 180:1 campaign would have us know, the lowest paid Harvard employee earns upwards of $40,000 per year. In other words, the salary of every Harvard service worker is greater than or equal to the US median household income.

Yet critiques of Occupy Harvard are as problematic as the movement’s shortcomings. Occupiers have been disparaged for everything from lacking a coherent agenda to refusing to engage with existing political institutions to inconveniencing pedestrians in Harvard Yard. Such criticisms are wholly and fundamentally misguided: Occupy is cognizant of its refusal to engage with existing institutions, and that is precisely the point. Occupy is not about pushing a singular, unchanging political agenda. It is about transforming the political process. It is about creating a space for non-normative political participation and experimenting with absolute, unyielding democracy. It is about the means much more than the ends. If you don't know that, you haven’t been paying attention.

Marina N. Bolotnikova ’14 is a Crimson editorial writer.

A Student’s Right

There are certainly lots of valid critiques of Occupy Harvard, but it is absolutely ridiculous to tell Harvard students that they can't critique their university's policies in an effort to promote ethical investment, workers' rights, support of the local community, and more inclusiveness for students of all backgrounds. Sure, being a Harvard student confers immense privilege. That doesn't mean that Harvard students can't work to make their local and global economies more egalitarian and fair. In fact, it means that students here concerned about the increasing gap between the rich and poor in the US have even more responsibility to speak out about Harvard's complicity with fundamentally inequitable systems.

Sandra Y.L. Korn ’14 is a Crimson editorial writer.

Share your opinion on Occupy Harvard in the comments section below or by sending a letter to letters@thecrimson.com.

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