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Op Eds

Harvard’s Next President Should Be an Activist

By Laura S. Veira-Ramirez, Crimson Opinion Writer

Early last week, the Presidential Search Committee sent out a message to students asking for advice and nominations for the next president of Harvard University. After current University President Drew G. Faust steps down at the end of this academic year, we’ll try to learn from the past and improve on the future. As the search to fill the position begins, we should look to devoted grassroots organizers as inspiration for the kind of person that our next president should be.

Activists are not complacent. Activists put the needs of their communities first. They put their lives on the line for the things they believe in. Activists aren’t afraid to speak their mind and share their own stories.

An activist would put the students first. While people joke that the president works under students living in Massachusetts Hall, this is how it actually should be. The president’s job is to serve the students.

Given the current presidential administration, we need Harvard’s president to advocate for students. Harvard needs someone who will fight for students’ right to education when it is under the care of an unqualified and unskilled government. We need someone who will not only advocate for students in Washington, but also assure them that they will have all their needs met on campus.

We have seen instances of presidents failing their students in the past. We saw it in 2003 with President Summers. When he had to choose between protecting students from outright discrimination under the Solomon Act and federal funding, he picked the latter. Summers allowed military recruiters on campus, showing support for discriminatory policies against members of the LGBTQ community such as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Students were similarly failed again last year. After meeting with students who clearly vocalized the need for Harvard to be a sanctuary campus, Faust refused. After rallying in support of that status, students were dismayed to learn that the University was not willing to ensure their safety and calm their anxieties over the possibility of being detained on their way to class.

We need an activist who will support the student body no matter what. We need a president who will not give up on what’s important to the people because nobody should have to compromise their identity and well-being. We need a president who will make sure that students feel safe in their home and have all the resources available to them that they need to continue succeeding. This country already has a shortage of them.

We need someone who will not claim to know what’s best for their students by ignoring what those students—who are actually best positioned to know—are asking for. We need a president who will invest wisely, not using unethically gained investment returns to fund some students’ education at the expense of others. Our president should listen to students’ calls for a multicultural center. They should hear our calls for a bridge program. They should listen to our calls for more culturally competent and accessible mental health counselors.

The president should make sure that all students feel safe on campus. They must provide extra support for students coming from underprivileged and marginalized communities. They should not allow hate speech on campus to ensure that a toxic environment is not getting in the way of those students’ education. They must stop trying to suppress students by pretending to care and meeting them with empty promises.

We need a president who will be incessant in the fight for justice and use Harvard’s position of influence to mobilize the rest of the country to action.

And, finally, given that so many social activists and students affected by the current state of our country are people of color, maybe it’s time Harvard finally has a non-white president.

Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Leverett House.

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