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Op Eds

From a Suspended Senior: With a Raised Middle Finger and Love in My Heart

By Addison Y. Liu
By Syd D. Sanders, Crimson Opinion Writer
Syd D. Sanders ’24 is a joint concentrator in Government and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in Kirkland House.

I came to Harvard proclaiming that I wanted to become a senator. Today, I stand on the brink of a graduation in which I will no longer walk, suspended and looking forward to a life of community organizing.

I grew up trans in rural Maine, working in kitchens and painting houses. I’ve come face to face with the law, moved away from home at 16. Where I’m from, going to college is not a given and leaving the state is uncommon.

But in the spring of 2020, living out of a garage loft without running water, I became one of the first openly trans valedictorians in the country and the first person from my high school to get into Harvard.

Like many students from my background, Harvard presented a sea of firsts, a total transformation of my circumstances and opportunities. I will always remember driving to college for the first time: Crossing over the big bridge between Maine and New Hampshire — overwhelmed by hope, fear, and an unimaginable life ahead, I began to cry. I was finally free.

Four years later, I have found the freedom I thought Harvard would offer, but not in the ways one would think.

I came to Harvard wanting to make the world a better place through progressive politics. I studied Government and served on the board of the Harvard College Democrats. I lobbied government officials and interned on campaigns and in state senators’ offices. I tried to work within the system, unaware of and unexposed to another way.

Everything changed my sophomore year, when Covid-19 restrictions fell away and campus organizing raged back to life. In 2021, amidst the Harvard Graduate Students Union strike — in which hundreds of graduate students went on strike in an effort to win higher wages, a union shop, and real recourse for survivors — I joined the Student Labor Action Movement and learned just what people power could do.

Never had I felt so much potential for change as I did surrounded by masses of protestors and organizers fighting for justice. That year, I learned that real change does not come from working within the confines of institutions like this school or our government, but from hitting the streets and dismantling those very institutions from the outside in.

Since then, I have continued to fight for labor rights with SLAM and the Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union; protested this University’s moral and material complicity in occupation and genocide with the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine coalition; resisted rape culture with the Harvard Feminist Coalition; and called for Harvard to divest its $50 billion endowment from the prison-industrial complex with the Harvard Prison Divestment Coalition.

These fights have revealed that the portrait Harvard paints of itself as an institution dedicated to justice and social good is nothing more than that — a portrait, a facade. This university professes to educate, protect, and transform its students, but in truth, it union-busts; weaponizes housing and food against student workers and organizers; mobilizes resources to protect professors convicted by its own Title IX processes; upholds empire, exploitation, apartheid, and genocide on a global scale; and disciplines the students and workers who speak out against these injustices.

Just this past month, as I built the Liberated Zone — Harvard’s pro-Palestine encampment — with my peers, I watched the administration turn the Yard into a surveillance state. I saw supplies and supporters kept outside the gates and was one of dozens put through disciplinary processes and placed on involuntary leave — functionally evicted, forced off meal plans, and fired from campus jobs — for peaceful protest.

Throughout my time here, I have come to learn that Harvard does not stand for its students or the more just world I came here hoping to build. It is the antithesis of that world.

But as I learned of Harvard’s injustice, I also learned how to organize — and, in doing so, learned what the path towards liberation looks like. What moves the world closer to justice and joy is not Harvard, but the organizers I have met here, who have taught me, shaped me, and led me to the work I want to do.

I didn’t learn these things in a classroom, during an internship, or from a speaker event. I learned them from the incredible community of organizers who see through Harvard’s lies and have dedicated their lives to righting the University’s wrongs. I gained this compass for liberation on the streets, at rallies and teach-ins, in the basement of University Hall, and from the encampment in the Yard.

Commencement is a celebration of graduating students and their accomplishments, an event that functions as a laudatory salute to Harvard itself. There is a sour dissonance in that fact that The Crimson’s Editorial Board has asked me to write this op-ed as a “notable senior” reflecting on graduation while Harvard withholds my degree until May of 2026 for fighting its investments in genocide in Palestine. I refuse to give Harvard the pat on the back that it craves.

I sit here writing this with a middle finger raised to Harvard and the systems of oppression it perpetuates and depends on — and with so much love in my heart for my organizer peers and the liberated world we fight for.

I don’t know when I will graduate, I don’t know what my next few days will look like, but one thing is for certain: I know we will never stop.

Syd D. Sanders ’24 is a joint concentrator in Government and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in Kirkland House.

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