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Hey Bacow! Protest’s Place at Harvard

By Aiyana White
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Another year, another interrupted speech. In what may well become a tradition, student activists interrupted University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s Parents Weekend speech last Friday. As Bacow began addressing the sea of freshmen and their parents at First-Year Family Weekend, dozens of freshmen chanting “fair contract now!” walked out of the auditorium in support of the Harvard Graduate Student Union strike.

We applaud the protest’s aims and its execution. The demonstrators stood up, clearly articulated their cause, and promptly exited the building. They abided by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ free speech guidelines, a thoughtful set of policies that we have firmly defended in the past. President Bacow was in no way denied his right to speak — in fact, he kept it pushing, taking only seconds to acknowledge the disruption, and then to give a complimentary nod to its student organizers. The protest advanced a worthwhile cause, but never aimed to do so at the exclusion or silencing of others. Next year’s student activists should look to last week’s protest as just one example of effective, thoughtful protest.

Student demonstrations on Parents’ Weekend and other attention-attracting dates are popular for good reason: Protests are essential, on and off campus. They can help challenge harmful preexisting norms and invite positive change. Students have been protesting on college campuses for centuries, using loud voices and brightly-colored signs to call for reform. Harvard too has an extremely rich, centuries-old history of student protest, one that can be traced back to just two years after the College’s 17th century founding, when students rose up to protest against then-President Eaton’s use of physical beatings to impart discipline.

We haven’t stopped protesting since — nor should we.

Protests at Harvard have a track record of improving our community and the experiences of the people within it — and we doubt that change would’ve come about without some rebel rousing. A laundry list of crucial Harvard policy shifts can be traced back to rowdy, vocal students: the end of campus enlistment programs during the Vietnam War, the creation of an African and African American Studies department, divestment from fossil fuel companies and Apartheid South Africa, and contract improvements for Harvard University Dining Services workers. Students, in advancing the causes they’re passionate about through vocal public protest, have made Harvard better.

We are glad to see this year’s crop of freshmen pick up the baton — or rather, the banner. As freshmen who have spent comparatively little time on campus, they have proven quick to use their right to protest to advocate for change.

We are especially glad to see the freshmen stand up for an issue that can initially (and deceptively) seem so separate from their own lives. Their willingness to support graduate student workers who they might not know very well is, in that way, thoughtful and kind. While the graduate student union did not organize the demonstration, they sanctioned and supported it. We appreciate the fact that the student protesters sought approval from the union for their walkout, centering the needs and perspectives of graduate student workers before themselves. Despite their short stint at Harvard, the members of our newest class have taken to caring for the broader Harvard community incredibly quickly.

By demonstrating in support of the graduate student union, the freshmen that organized this walkout are throwing their weight behind a cause bigger than themselves. By protesting at all, they are making Harvard a better place for all of us, showing us how to fight for the campus and world we want to live in.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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