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A Letter to the Outside World

In October, a 'doxxing truck' came to Harvard's campus, flashing the names and faces of students allegedly connected to a controversial joint statement.
In October, a 'doxxing truck' came to Harvard's campus, flashing the names and faces of students allegedly connected to a controversial joint statement. By Julian J. Giordano
By Isaac Mansell, Crimson Opinion Writer
Isaac R. Mansell ’26, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Statistics Concentrator in Kirkland House.

About a month ago, I co-authored an article in The Crimson about antisemitism at Harvard. Since Oct. 7, another story has developed in parallel to the antisemitism on Harvard’s campus — the story of the public’s reaction to it. This piece is about that story.

My brother Caleb is currently taking a gap year in Israel, just as I did over two years ago. In the weeks following the Oct. 7 massacre, my mother told me about several conversations she had with her friends.

Her friends would ask, “How’s Caleb doing these days?” Then their eyes would widen with concern, and they’d follow up with, “and how’s Isaac? I hear it’s really awful over there…” As if I was the one who had spent my holiday in a bomb shelter. As if I was the one living in a warzone.

In the weeks following Oct. 7, I felt I was in a bizarro world. People cared more about a provocative, thoughtless, and reprehensible statement by several loosely affiliated Harvard clubs than the real world events the statement described.

My home country of Canada broke from a pattern of voting in favor of Israel at the United Nations, a significant shift that barely made headlines in comparison.

Media outlets seemed weirdly intent on interviewing my peers when people in Israel and Gaza were suffering on a daily basis.

Groups felt the need to squander their time and money commissioning a ridiculous airplane with an equally ridiculous message about Harvard’s antisemitism problem as well as doxxing trucks that flashed the names of students even tangentially associated with the statement, eliciting an eye-roll at best from passersby, while inflicting real hurt on those targeted.

The shockwaves from the crisis at Harvard reverberated throughout the highest echelons of American political society. As the United States government juggles its policy in two overseas wars and grapples with serious political instability and record low approval ratings, major outlets and political figures remain focused on college discourse.

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (the supposed hero of the Jewish people in the fight against antisemitism on college campuses) actively campaigned in 2021 for a congressional candidate who had praised Hitler (and who subsequently apologized) and unwaveringly supports Trump even after his 2022 dinner with Kanye West and Nicholas J. Fuentes, both widely known for their antisemitic rhetoric. Despite her ties to these figures, Stefanik exploited the Harvard fiasco and catapulted herself into the national spotlight.

I felt, at times, like a political football.

Nevertheless, former University President Claudine Gay’s repeated failure to respond well to Stefanik’s questioning and categorically state that calls for genocide against Jewish students constitute a violation of Harvard’s code of conduct, even if legalistically justifiable, was disgraceful, deeply hurtful, and seemingly contradicted the University’s commitment to combatting bigotry.

While some celebrated Gay’s resignation, apparently believing that antisemitism had somehow been vanquished, we had no clear path forward and no concrete commitment to institutional change at a time when leadership and vision were desperately needed. To those claiming victory, I believe it is a Pyrrhic victory at best that will long fester as an open wound on our campus.

Over these months, my faith in Harvard as an institution has been rocked to its core through waves of indecision, gross mismanagement, and convoluted statements that somehow seemed to talk about me, but never to me.

It will continue to frustrate me that Harvard seems more willing to expend their nearly unlimited resources on repeated attempts to salvage their own image than on honest efforts to understand my community and others.

It will continue to be difficult to look at some of my classmates the same way after seeing their posts denying rape or justifying murder because it is politically easier than accepting complex truths.

And it will continue to profoundly disturb me to hear chants of “globalize the intifada” while I’m heading to class.

But that’s just the thing: I head to class.

I head to class, and then I have dinner, and then I do some work, and then I go to sleep. Because, at the end of the day, I’m still a college student. Because, on this campus, we are all still college students.

Over three months ago, I spoke to a Harvard alum whose son is serving in the IDF. Much of his son’s unit was murdered on Oct. 7 — his son had thankfully been off-base due to the holiday of Sukkot — and he wanted to hear updates from his alma mater.

I didn’t know what to tell him except not to worry about it. Thousands of people had been killed at the time of our conversation, and hundreds remained in captivity. Many on both sides of the Green Line had not yet been buried.

I assume the groups responsible for the initial statement that thrust Harvard into the public spotlight were well aware that it would attract significant media attention. That, generally speaking, is the sole purpose of a public statement. The media apparatus — ostensibly appalled and enraged — amplified the statement into the stratosphere. The aftermath sparked a conflagration that, if anything, drastically increased polarization, fear, and hostility, and somehow outraged everyone for different reasons.

Almost no one is better off because of it.

One of the first things that I now do each morning is look through the faces of people who have been killed overnight and pray that I will not recognize any of them. I am sure that many Palestinians do the same.

Suddenly, what’s going on at Harvard does not seem as immediate.

Isaac R. Mansell ’26, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Statistics Concentrator in Kirkland House.

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