Bite the Hand That Feeds You

Or, my 142,000 reasons to speak

If you are reading this as a student of Harvard University, something went terribly right.

You worked hard. Your family supported you. Your teacher encouraged you to apply. You had the uncommon grit to push ahead when no one believed in you.

As people who are lucky enough to be here, we sometimes forget that most of the time, for most people, the world does not work.

The world is an ethical emergency.

This year has seen a lot of those emergencies: racialized police shootings of unarmed people of color. The catastrophic effects of human-induced climate change.


Here at Harvard, we’re learning to be people with the power to impact these emergencies. To worsen them. Or to help make them better.

I worry about this literally all the time.       

Because Harvard is not outside these emergencies. Harvard is a community, an industry, and a political actor. The work we do here, the communities we make here, matter beyond these brick walls. And in the past year, a lot of us have taken sometimes-controversial action to try to address these ethical emergencies right here at home.

Some of us organized a #BlackLivesMatter protest at Primal Scream. Some of us founded a magazine for racial justice. Some of us are currently participating in a week-long blockade of Massachusetts Hall, urging the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry. 

These are causes—#BlackLivesMatter, racial justice, and climate justice—that I think most of us are behind. But some of us have felt uncomfortable about the tactics activists use to address them.

That makes sense.

Harvard has a history of rabble-rousers: civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protesters; abolitionists; Thoreau.

But the incredible odds of even getting into this place—the competition, the need to achieve—can encourage a certain type of person. A certain set of skills.

We know the stereotype: Get the grade. Toe the line. Put it on the resume. Speak up, but not too loudly. Don’t offend.

For those of us whose path to Harvard was full of familial, financial, emotional, and academic support, it can be hard to viscerally experience the ways the world hurts people. That doesn’t mean we don’t care; it means we need to exert even greater empathy to make our ethical convictions and our actions line up.