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I’m Scared to Write this Column

By Carine M. Hajjar, Crimson Opinion Writer
Carine M. Hajjar ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

There’s a folder in my Google Drive for unpublished, unpitched articles intended for The Crimson. Mostly political commentaries, each piece usually calls for more ideological inclusion or debunks another stereotype about Harvard conservatives. In the end, though, I never hit send; I enumerate excuses. It needs more edits. Fewer words. I’m too busy.

But I’ve been fooling myself. It’s fear, not a lack of refinement, that characterizes this unpublished folder.

One of these pieces in particular forced me to confront the reality of my fear. It was a fiery dissent to The Crimson’s staff editorial, “Politics is Personal — Expect It” from December of 2020. For me, one of the more shocking claims made by The Editorial Board was that conservatives asking for ideological representation do not “by virtue of their ideologies, deserve the same protections or support … minorities need.” Their desire for as much would be “misleading and manipulative.”

I was immediately compelled to respond to the erroneous, implicit assumption that conservatives are striving for minority status at Harvard — quite the bold claim made by an overwhelmingly liberal Editorial Board. As a Crimson Editorial staff writer, I find conservative stereotypes like these to be rampant among the Editorial Board and part of the reason why my attendance at meetings is so sparse.

While I cannot speak for all conservatives, I have never hoped to be ideologically represented as, or at the expense of, a minority group — and know that many of my conservative friends would say the same. The suggestion is offensive, presumptuous, and an unproductive deflection. It justifies further isolating non-liberals from what is seen as mainstream discourse on campus.

Most of all, I was struck by the idea that conservative representation and minority representation are somehow mutually exclusive. For one, there are conservative students who also identify as members of historically marginalized groups. Are we suggesting that the two identities are incongruous?

To conflate minority representation with the exclusion of conservative voices is to further deny already marginalized identities of their agency to make political choices. More than that, there can and should be space for both minority representation and a more balanced ideological environment at Harvard.

Diversity is a good thing to be sure. But is it the only good thing? What about ideological diversity? Students should advocate for a variety of convictions. Minority representation is important but that does not mean that ideological diversity has to be unimportant. In the end, both can broaden personal and intellectual horizons.

After finishing the draft of my dissenting op-ed, I was admittedly excited. Hopefully, I could debunk some misconceptions, make a small change. But a knot grew in my stomach, as it always does, as I read and reread. To touch on the subject of minority representation is a social gamble at Harvard, a seemingly endless list of “dos and don’ts” with little forgiveness when one stumbles, and little room to ask earnest, learning questions. I want to better understand inclusion issues or potentially offer other avenues towards equity, but it’s hard to openly think critically about the dominant narrative for fear of being labeled as insensitive.

I was particularly worried about the level of higher scrutiny that comes with being a non-liberal at Harvard. Especially recently, after a chaotic post-election season, some Republicans have deservedly come under fire. But that also has made it even harder for conservatives, who are often inaccurately lumped in with President Trump and his destabilizing behavior, to feel free to speak out. I have experienced this firsthand, being told that “we don’t need people like conservatives” or “I don’t care about how conservatives feel” in Harvard-sponsored political conversations.

Attitudes like these – attitudes of ideological conformity and exclusion — left me with a deep sense of dread as I did one final skim of my piece.

My unpublished dissent also touched on the staff editorials assertion that conservatives must come to terms with their views being “perfectly reasonable grounds for the judgment of their peers” and that there is “a reciprocal freedom to react, dissent, and protest those opinions” — a point that is true but laughably ironic at Harvard.

There’s nothing “reciprocal” about campus discourse. Losing friends and being labeled as hateful are just some of the reasons conservatives, myself included, keep our heads down. On top of the astronomical social cost, there are also few platforms for conservatives to “react, dissent, and protest.”

So, in the end, I tucked the piece away. More edits? More time?

It was fear. Fear of being misrepresented, mislabelled. Fear of being shunned. And it’s the same fear that almost made me turn down this column.

I’ve always wanted to write a Crimson column during my senior spring. But when the time came to apply this January, I clammed up. A column means deadlines and visibility. I could no longer make excuses or hide in my secret folder.

Before throwing out the possibility, a sense of guilt gave me pause. If someone doesn’t speak out, will anything change? Shouldn’t I be able to share my views? Harvard is an academic institution, after all, and the exchange of ideas should not be an anxiety-inducing ordeal; it should be foundational to intellectual growth.

Most of all, I was guilty about continually caving to a system of social pressure, shame, and ideological conformity. I was ashamed to care so much about what others thought about me to the point that I would hide my own convictions.

I spent a lot of time talking to my friends, asking them about the risks of writing a column. Each responded with an answer and a question. You will be scrutinized. But is it worth it?

I’ve decided it is. I’ve decided that Harvard certainly has room for new voices. Voices that do not steal space, but hopefully offer something new and enriching.

Carine M. Hajjar ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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