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Columns

Why We Write

“Where do the words go / when we have said them?”—Margaret Atwood

I wonder if words are ever enough.

After reading and writing religiously for The Crimson for the past two years, I’ve struggled sometimes to remember why I wear this habit like a second skin when it often feels ill-fitted. Why do we—I—continue writing? Why do we insist on preaching the Harvard experience knowing that once the words and passion trickle from our fingertips, they are held by only a handful of eyes, are given perhaps a fleeting consideration before quickly turning to the next hot take? Why write and invite change, only to be swiftly forgotten?

Students have valiantly attempted to pen their opinions and suggestions on these pages for just over a century now. Every day of the academic year, voices from all throughout the University call for changes in regulation and reproach, in culture and in understanding. Our communication with the University and its affiliates is omnipresent; yet, it is often one-sided.

Outpourings of opinions and concern seem to fall on deaf ears, time and time again. Requests for transparency on the selection process and requirements of Institute of Politics fellowships for some such as Ed Gillespie or Corey Lewandowski, for example, were largely ignored. Confusion about the rescinding of Chelsea Manning’s IOP fellowship and the rejection of Michelle Jones, prompting further dialogue from the administration, was never clarified. Demands for an explanation of the role Harvard University Health Services and the Harvard University Police Department play on campus following the tragic beating of a black undergraduate student by the Cambridge Police Department this past April are probably tacked somewhere on the agenda list of yet another committee, pending a response in maybe a couple of months (if we’re lucky).

Even more personal narratives have sparked short-lived conversation but not change. Accusations of racism towards students, even when they are seeking mental health treatment, have blithely slipped by without public University comment. Heart-wrenching accounts of sexual assault pointing to the need for rape kits on campus or for a revamping of the no-contact order process so a victim does not constantly run into their assailant have been insufficiently responded to, for almost 20 years since these issues were first brought to light. Suicide attempts have been painfully recounted within these pages without any real response from the administration.

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It’s not that every single piece of opinion writing that this newspaper produces should be met with an immediate agreeance and tangible repercussions. On the contrary: Many of these pieces simply compliment steps in the right direction or call for further nuance in campus considerations. Those articles don’t necessarily call for any response from the University, and absolute compliance to every opinion would be rash and foolhardy at best. But for voices on these pages, laden with pain and fatigue, to echo each other for at times decades without even a mere acknowledgement—that is not only tiring, but unacceptable.

After a while, writing about these experiences seems like shouting into the void.

There are some important victories to note—however far and few between they may be. Students who have been proposing the need for an Ethnic Studies department for the past 45 years (and writing about it here for at least the past 24), for instance, have finally secured a track within another concentration. That’s progress, of some sorts. Moreover, the pre-orientation bridge program for low-income and first-generation students is starting up this fall due in part to opinion writing. After initially being rejected, students took to voicing their concerns, and administrators even wrote their own opinion pieces to respond to these positions. Both perspectives were acknowledged, considered, and given equal thought after being written about. Students continued to work tireless towards realizing these opinions. Today, we have a bridge program.

Rare moments like these remind me we why continue to write. The slight chance that the administration recognizes our opinions and concerns reminds us to continue amplifying campus opinions in thorough, well-thought out articles. It reminds us to keep a thumb on the pulse of campus culture, to weigh each argument carefully, and to cull all the facts together for a sharp critique. It reminds us that sometimes, these words resonate with others, that they call attention to problems plaguing students or the University. That sometimes, these words are remembered, galvanize action, and lead to change.

So here I am. Writing yet another column (hoping I don’t cringe reading it later). Throwing yet another opinion into the void like a tree falling in a forest, hoping the sound reverberates. Hoping you can hear it too.

Jessenia N. Class ’20, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology concentrator in Quincy House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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