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Whose Harvard?

“This is her home, this thin edge of barbwire.”—Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera

By Zoe D. Ortiz and Ruben E. Reyes Jr., Crimson Staff Writers

Ruben: What does a failed promise look like? It looks like an introductory literature course where the only thing whiter than the kids in your class is the syllabus. It sounds like people spitting that cultural groups are a form of self-segregation. It stings like the words of a high-ranking administrator explaining that Harvard doesn’t have a multicultural center because of philosophy rooted in the 1960s, as if Jim Crow didn’t have a grip on this country’s throat then. A broken promise is seeing through the smoke screen of admissions pamphlets, looking at your brownness in a mirror, and wondering whose Harvard you’ve been admitted into.

Zoe: It’s constant reinforcement that my experiences aren’t considered enough. Being a woman of color, being low-income, being first-generation are thought to be the boxes checked on a college application, never to be acknowledged again as impacting my college experience. As if those labels that I live and breathe, that make up my identity, should no longer be considered significant after walking through the gates of Harvard. The University lacks resources that recognize my experience as a low-income student of color as being different from the experience of a white student from a high-income family. This only serves to reinforce that my identity isn’t important enough to be acknowledged outside of the classroom where I’m supposed to be the voice of diversity. I am constantly shown that my worth on this campus comes from my otherness, my unique identity, the brown color of my skin, but when it comes time to address those differences and how they have influenced my needs as a student, they are no longer important.

R: What, then, do we do with the promised support that is shattered to pieces by a tiny For Whites Only sticker? They cut our golden flesh, and once we’re able to control or bandage the bleeding, we speak out. We spend hours writing a column. We climb on statues. We plan protests. We do anything to get ears to listen and people to support us. We ignore those who tell us to be grateful for our place. They try convincing us that our spots were nothing more than affirmative action admissions and that they should have gone to another white male who’d be better off fulfilling his destiny by punching a final club. But we will not bleed forever, and we’ll keep fighting for support and change at this institution until the wound has scabbed over.

Z: To the College, I’m no more than a walking, talking number used to justify their claiming of the magical buzzword “Diversity.” I’m supposed to feel like a valued member of this college community. I’m supposed to believe that my perspective, my voice, is indispensable in a classroom dominated by white students from privileged backgrounds. I’m supposed to believe that this is just as much my college as it is theirs. But when I look to the front of my classroom I only see white men. When I receive counseling I have to scour page after page for a counselor who can address the intersectionality of my identity. When I want to receive funding as the treasurer of a cultural organization, I have to talk about it in terms of how it can educate the white majority about my culture rather than the more important reason: how it can create an otherwise nonexistent safe space for the minority students on this campus. I’m not just a word on an admissions website; my experiences aren’t labels thrown around like a currency to determine which top-tier institution has the most well-rounded student body, only to be forgotten when I arrive here. If this place truly wanted to acknowledge me as no different from anybody else, they would ensure I was supported in every capacity, they would hire people who came from backgrounds like mine thereby deeming them worthy enough, qualified enough, to teach, to counsel, within their prestigious walls.

R&Z: This country will not pretend any longer to be America for all equally. That is clear. So whose America are we living in? That question will inspire films, art, future columns, and years of forced confrontations with our ugly realities. Those conversations will be difficult—impossible for some—but while we grapple with that, we must make progress on this campus.

Harvard is no longer comprised only of the white elite, so we must think about why it’s still built to be for the white elite. If we must tear down certain pieces of this institution to rebuild it to better reflect the brown, black, and yellow bodies it currently crushes, then so be it. Even if we have questions about whose America we live in, we should not have questions about whose Harvard this is. We live in a borderland, on our fronteras, on the barbed wire, and in a painful liminal space. You, the reader, as you sit behind your screen or look down at our words in print, have heard what life is like on these borderlands. What will you do? Esto es nuestra realidad, ahora que harás?

Ruben E. Reyes, Jr. '19 and Zoe D. Ortiz '19 are Crimson editorial writers. Ruben lives in Leverett House and Zoe lives in Mather House. Their co-written column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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