Some people might think of the idea of the college campus as a microcosm of society as flawed, since college students generally face less responsibilities compared to those who have graduated. However, this by no means indicates that a college student’s life is ideal. Even though college is in some regards a safer place than society as a whole, college students still face injustices and struggle to have their voices heard. What I have seen during my time at Harvard has made me realize that although college is not necessarily a microcosm of society, it does teach us important lessons about the world we live in.
Before coming to Harvard, I, like many others, was excited to study in a world-renowned institution that would support its students to the best of its abilities. Coming from a country in which it is deemed impolite to challenge authorities, I was curious to see how students in American universities are more outspoken about their beliefs and are not afraid to speak against those in power. Harvard both confirmed and denied my hopes of experiencing what it feels like to be on a campus where students are eager to advocate for what they believe in. I have been encouraged by students passionately advocating for issues ranging from the establishment of the ethnic studies concentration to Harvard’s investments in the fossil fuel industry and prison-industrial complex. But at the same time, I have also felt disheartened by our tendencies to forget about what our peers are fighting for and the sense of hesitation that students feel that prevent them from being vocal about their arguments.
What I have noticed from my life at Harvard is that there is a pervasive culture of desiring perfection and stability. One example of this is choosing classes. The more time we spend at Harvard, the less we place value on venturing from our comfort zones by taking classes that are unlike what we are accustomed to studying. I sometimes feel like college is no different than high school — a lot of us aim for perfection in grades and extracurriculars that solely doing something out of passion without regard of its impact on our grades and careers seems foolish.
The same goes with student advocacy. While there are student groups that advocate for various issues, there is also a significant amount of students who choose not to be involved in activism. Of course, not everyone should be expected to attend protests — after all, we all have different opinions. Yet, we should still be aware of what our peers are advocating for and be ready to support them if we are persuaded by their causes. We too often neglect the amazing work done by our peers to fight for a better Harvard. Another factor that may prevent students from voicing their opinions is the fear of retaliation. Students may feel hesitant to speak out or engage in activism if they fear that the University would punish them for their actions. The sense of hesitation to speak out is thus formed both by our own indifference and the fear of being attacked.
Harvard is by no means perfect. It often falls short in taking student opinion into account and creating a safe space for all identities. However, Harvard’s imperfections challenge us to identify them and propose solutions. We should be vigilant of how changes made by the university can affect our lives and strive to truly take ownership of this campus. This does not mean that Harvard should be satisfied with the status quo — it should strive to create a welcoming environment for students regardless of student protests. More importantly, it should make sure that no student faces limits in voicing their opinion due to fear of retaliation. The institution that exists to educate the world’s next leaders should not teach its students to submit to authority out of fear.
Even in life after graduation, we will be faced with the dilemma of whether to be vocal about the injustices we see around us or to stay silent and let those that are more passionate do the work. The fear of retaliation would also be present, this time with even greater risks than what we face as college students. In this regard, our experience at Harvard informs us of what to expect in the real world. Will we choose to neglect the injustices around us because we think engaging with them would negatively impact us, or will we be vigilant and vocal? The choice is up to us — but the choice we make now could influence how we navigate life after graduation.
Daniel Kim ’21, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Government concentrator in Leverett House.