This was the year we were finally done talking about Covid-19.
For the past three years, the pandemic dominated our lives, and, in turn, it dominated these pages. Now, pandemic restrictions lifted, we have the blissful freedom to forget. And forget we have: These same pages no longer know of a pandemic.
Forgetting, though, does not beget learning — veritas doesn’t emerge from the void. Covid-19 cases still occur today, and we are all grappling with the pandemic’s aftereffects. Rather than disregarding the last few years and picking up exactly where we left off in 2020, we must acknowledge the cavity that Covid-19 left us in, to fully appreciate our current flourishing.
Harvard is not merely a collection of red-brick buildings. It’s a campus, where students, teachers, and administrators come together in community. Our campus is not stagnant: Each year, as new freshmen cycle in and tutors swap Houses, its culture is molded by a slightly different set of hands.
For us undergraduates, Harvard is home for just four disarming, uninhibited, formative years. Yet our past four years have been wracked by discontinuity. This is only the second year of a full in-person campus, and the first entirely without Covid restrictions. Only the current graduating class has even witnessed the pre-pandemic era.
We’ve been attempting to figure out what Harvard’s campus should look like, without any reference point. Sometimes, unable to rebuild from blueprints we can no longer access, we’ve had to build anew.
This new beginning, like any, comes with near-limitless potential.
Harvard is a university drenched in history, influenced by a chain of traditions, norms, and practices stretching back centuries. The pandemic’s blip on this record has torn us away from institutional inertia — leaving the trajectory of our campus unusually and delightfully unbounded.
In this absurd yet joyous new normal, options branched out before us. We could have found comfort in an inheritance of old habits. We could have fallen into new routines without questioning their origins. Or we could have actively rethought what Harvard should look like, and taken intentional steps towards defining a better normal.
It would be a cliche — and plain wrong — to say that we chose to fundamentally transform Harvard’s culture; that, because of us, post-pandemic Harvard no longer reeks of elitism or institutional failure. But over the past year, we have made strides worth celebrating to improve our campus.
Since the Covid-19 era, we’ve gone from grab-and-go meals to moshing at Yardfest, from pinning each others’ boxes on Zoom to seeing the lower half of our peers’ bodies, and from living across dozens of time zones to residing in a single dozen of Houses. Students have come together, embraced their proximity (literally and figuratively), and harnessed their collective energy to cultivate a new campus culture.
Over the past year, this Editorial Board has been spellbound witnessing the ceaseless fight for a better Harvard — a fight driven by students, rather than the administration we’d expect to be steering.
As our fellow undergraduate course assistants and teaching fellows were undercompensated and overworked, it was students who reported and followed up on their plight. As non-tenured faculty faced untenable working conditions, it was students who supported their quest for unionization. As one of our residential Houses carried the name of two of slavery’s greatest enablers in colonial America, it was students who mounted a denaming campaign.
And so forth beyond campus grounds: As the nation’s gun violence epidemic only worsened, it was students who leveraged the Harvard name to advocate for justice. As a third of Pakistan went underwater, it was students who fundraised, in common areas and dining halls. As people across China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet called for liberty, it was students who echoed their calls.
And they did it all without institutional backing.
To be clear, the administration is not some tyrannical oppressor. As affirmative action awaited a gavel drop, students and administrators alike flocked to Washington, D.C., and vouched for race-conscious admissions.
Tension between students and administrators is how the relationship is supposed to be. Bright-eyed students dream of sweeping reform tangible within their four-year Harvard lifespans, while seasoned administrators know firsthand the disinclination of a hundreds-year-old institution with more than a dozen separate schools to change. The two parties are locked in an age-old tug of war, apparent even today.
All year, the administration has set up unpopular restrictions for students to operate within, such as the Dean of Students Office’s ridiculous rules around club naming and potential freeze on club creation. But we found a path forward by continuing to tug: pushing for the changes we wish to see from Harvard and refusing to let administrative disagreement hinder our aims.
This steady tug captures exactly what makes this campus home: students, hand in hand, taking charge to construct precisely the campus they want. Protesting and criticizing, advocating and leading, students this year have unrelentingly fought — even against the administration — for the best possible post-pandemic Harvard.
Improving Harvard is no easy feat. As students, we chip away at the daunting task of building a campus we’re proud to call home with the best of intentions. But sometimes, in the midst of this complex process, we get it wrong.
From a student transferring thousands of dollars in club funds to her personal bank account, to an astoundingly dysfunctional student government election, there was no shortage of avoidable student error on our campus this year.
But this margin of error is no reason to curtail student freedom and usher us along predetermined safe paths, as some administrators might believe. Mistakes are the natural mechanism by which our community of students can keep itself in check. We must be allowed to make our own blunders, so that we can learn and grow from them.
This authentic growth is needed so that we as students can engage with the intractable yet fundamental problems of living in community. These are problems the administration alone couldn’t solve even if we wanted it to. Ensuring that our campus culture does not tolerate bullying, for example, requires more than University-wide policy; it requires students striving to support one another.
Sometimes, the solutions are less clear. Within this politically polarized nation, our campus has grappled without resolution over how to best support free speech. This Editorial Board has taken a very particular stance on free speech, leading us to cast suspicions over student petitions and academic councils that seem to simply throw the phrase around as a shield from accountability. Others may disagree, finding us too severe on unconventional beliefs or too lenient on dangerous ones.
While this particular debate is far from finished, we have firm faith in the ability of our student body to come to a conclusion on our campus’s biggest challenges, as long as we put in the work to collectively renegotiate community norms.
We’d prefer an administration that gives us more space — not less — in this delicate rebuilding process. We know that students can beautifully revive campus from the ashes of pandemic; we just need the administration to trust us — even if there are a couple hiccups along the way.
Despite our best efforts to revitalize campus outside of the administration’s static perspective, we students are still dealing with some unsavory administration-enabled remnants of pre-pandemic Harvard, one pandemic later.
The beginning of this year gave us an unpleasant welcome back in the form of professor John L. Comaroff returning to the classroom after being accused by multiple graduate students of sexual misconduct. This administrative choice endangered students at the campus they had so painstakingly turned into their home.
The ensuing year has seen walkouts, occupations, and campaigns against Comaroff aplenty. Students have made clear their determination to see Comaroff removed from his post, and we couldn’t be prouder of their collective organizing to reshape our campus. Indeed, our Harvard can do better.
But the fight isn’t over until Comaroff is gone for good. We’re ending this year with Comaroff still disappointingly employed, the administration deaf to our calls otherwise.
More disheartening administrative silence comes in the statistics they won’t share: on the socioeconomic diversity of the College’s accepted classes. Despite its messaging of accessibility for low-income students, Harvard skews grossly, disproportionately wealthy.
This is not the Harvard we want. The bastion of privilege and wealth that the school represented during its founding should be left in the past, alongside Comaroff’s tenure. Harvard should capture diversity across every axis, bringing in new students from all kinds of backgrounds.
It’s a new era of Harvard, redefined since the lapse provided to us by the pandemic. We refuse to allow antiquated standards of student protection and diversity to persist.
The upcoming year will present a clear symbol of Harvard’s new era, with Claudine Gay assuming the presidency. We hope Gay’s tenure will represent a more progressive relationship between students and administrators, but we will by no means stop holding the administration accountable or defining campus culture as students.
For centuries, students lived on Harvard’s campus and shaped its culture. Now, the University’s history fractured by the pandemic’s hard reset, we can create anew the culture that will define its next few centuries.
This year saw students at the helm of developing our new culture. Next year, as affirmative action appears poised to fall, we worry that a Harvard without its current breadth of student diversity will be a campus that no one can call home. We’ll need all hands on deck then — students, faculty, and administration — to uphold our collective culture.
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.