Before meeting Kimiko M. Matsuda-Lawrence ’16, I could count the number of people I knew who were mentioned on Wikipedia on one hand. Now, having met Matsuda-Lawrence, I require an extra appendage.
The senior is responsible for the multimedia promotion of “I, Too, Am Harvard,” a play based around the experiences of people of color on campus. The photo campaign went viral in her sophomore year. Matsuda-Lawrence again made headlines in her junior year, when she collaborated with other students of color on campus to launch Renegade, “an art and advocacy collective of Harvard student artists, writers, musicians, poets, activists, and thinkers who have come together in solidarity as people of color.”
Our desire to sit outside is thwarted by an aggressively bright sun shining across the Charles, so we settle down at a table inside Leverett House. I fire off a question that makes Matsuda-Lawrence first burst out laughing, and then thoughtfully ponder in silence for a few moments: What makes you interesting?
“I believe in the unapologetic existence and unfiltered expression of black people and people of color,” she responds after collecting her thoughts. “Which shouldn’t be interesting. But, unfortunately, in this world, and in this nation, and on this campus, it’s still a radical concept. The work in my time here has all been a part of that, and working for that.”
But, she’s quick to add, “I don’t like to talk about myself.” Matsuda-Lawrence stresses that all of her work has been incredibly collaborative with other students on campus, and even more so, it is nowhere near done. “I don’t want this to be like, oh, here’s Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, who’s done this incredible work on race and racism on campus, and we’ve made it. Because no! I’m still really angry! I still think: Why is the unapologetic and uncompromised existence of people of color still such a radical concept here on this campus?”
Matsuda-Lawrence speaks passionately about issues of diversity and inclusivity on campus. She discusses how frustrations with debates about affirmative action and the 2014 Primal Scream protest, where Matsuda-Lawrence and others tried and failed to get the primarily white Primal Screamers to join them in four and a half minutes of silence, inspired her collaborative projects. She relates the shock that came with having Renegade posters defaced and mocked in Pforzheimer House, but adds earnestly that she believes “that when you get that backlash, that’s just a sign that the work you’re doing is so needed.” She talks about her desire to merge arts and activism, an endeavor she wishes to make the pursuit of her life.
But more than any of that, Matsuda-Lawrence emphasizes how much more she believes there still is to be done on this campus. She points out the lack of faculty of color, of students of color in the arts, and of a multicultural center for the campus. “We can’t just act like these are problems we have at Yale, or Mizzou. This is in your own house, Harvard,” Matsuda-Lawrence says. “We students of color are going to keep shouting, and keep raising our voices, and keep being here, and keep protesting and rising up until you make a change.”