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Yes, I Said Yes, I Will, Yes

Things are messed up. Let's change them.

By Reina A.E. Gattuso

There is a feeling that used to surge through my body each time I entered Harvard Yard. I felt it when I left Weld. I felt it when I saw the Memorial Church spire. It was the swooping feeling of cresting high altitudes.

It was a feeling of gratitude. How grateful I was to find my nerdy self in a community of thinkers, each person I met—each student and each dining hall worker, each librarian and each professor—a new, miraculous world.

And it was a feeling of possibility. A feeling that here, at this place, with these people, we could create things we had never even dreamed: new technologies, new songs, new ways to live.

I grew up in a nice place full of nice people. But it was a small town, and often, people’s minds were small, too. I was too smart, too loud, too queer. My hips were too wide; I had too many questions. I did not agree that I was lesser because I liked girls, or was one. I did not laugh at the jokes my teachers made in class.

There was an invisible band tight around my ribs: my entire self bursting at the seams.

At Harvard, I burst out.

The sense of freedom, those first few weeks, was incredible. I met people who understood my literary references, who wanted to talk for hours about politics and poems. I met feminists, I met people who wanted to kiss me, I met people from all over the world, I wore heels, I read "Ulysses," I danced and danced.

For the first time in my life, I could be as big as myself.

I wanted to eat everything, say yes to everything, know everyone, fuck everyone, take it all in.

I sucked the air of Harvard Yard and held it until my lungs ached.

And then, Harvard knocked the wind out of me.

I don’t know how or when it started. Weekend nights when all I could do was weep. Shooting through the glamor, the high rafters and thick rugs, was hostility. I was from the wrong place, did the wrong things, did not understand how I should be acting.

It is easy to slip into a crack here—a dark mahogany crack—and stay there, and not come out.

I’ve been asked a lot, as I’ve run all over the place this year talking about equity in undergraduate extracurricular life, why I care so much.

It’s just performance, people tell me. It’s just a social scene. It’s just pretend.

That, I think, is one of the biggest things that prevents social change: an honest misunderstanding of the stakes.

Because this place is not pretend. It is our lives. And it is where we learn the social and professional habits that will one day affect a lot of other people’s lives.

I need to tell you—and I am sure you, many of you, already know; in your guts and on your skin, in your tired bones—that classism, and sexism, and racism and ableism and homophobia don’t offend us. They build up in our bones. They are released every time we crack a joint like poison. They wear us down and down until we think it is better if we do not live.

Harvard, like the rest of the world, has a history and present of all of these things. But here, they wear a fancier disguise. Tradition. History. Prestige.

It is not harmless. It is the dazed mornings; it is the evenings I sobbed into the bath; it is the panic, and then relief, as you wait for a struggling friend to pick up the phone.  

Because it is the performance that get us. The we’re-just-kidding. The you-know-we’re-not-really-sexistracistableisthomophobic. The you-know-we’re-just-having-fun.

If hierarchy and exclusion, if performances of privilege that disallow deep diversity, if putting prestige over people is how we have fun at Harvard, then fuck our fun.

If prestige requires bulldozing people, I don’t want prestige.

But I don’t think it does.

I used to feel all shivery-shuddery, all filled with wild, ragged hope when I walked through Harvard Yard. After a Lamont all-nighter, the pink mist just starting to clear. In the years since, that feeling was replaced by frustration, criticism, rage.

This year, collaborating with you through this column, the old feeling has returned. But it’s different now. Because I realized something.

I realized that the thrill of possibility that used to shake my chest each time I stepped into Harvard Yard was nothing but the beating of my own heart.

And your heart. And all of our hearts. I used to want to take Harvard inside of me, breathing it in so I would be different, changed.

But I don’t think there really is anything magical in the air. I think the really magical thing is our own lungs.

Everything is not okay. Harvard has not divested from fossil fuels, we as a university are still not doing enough to acknowledge and combat racism, our sexual assault policy and practices are messed up, our campus is outrageously class-skewed, and I still feel like crap every time I walk down Mt. Auburn Street on a Saturday night.

But there’s a lot of energy right now on this campus. A willingness to have these discussions. The courage to make change.

Collaborating with you through this column has made me brave.

I hope it has made you brave, as well.

I hope we are brave enough to listen to the thing inside us that tells us the world can be different, and better, that we can make it better together. The thing that mourns and craves. That wants to take in everything and be everything and love everyone, and for all of it to be just.

I hope that feeling grows.

I hope that feeling pushes at our skin until it flowers from our mouths, until we sing it, until we are so filled with it that we burst forth into our own better world, right here, irresistibly, at this moment.

This feeling is anger and sadness, but it is also friendship.

It is the feeling of being in love.

Reina A.E. Gattuso ‘15, an FM editor, is a joint literature and studies of women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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