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This Must Be the Place

Making a home from the harshness of Harvard

By Brianna J. Suslovic

The streetlights on Mount Auburn popped on underneath a cloudy sunset sky on Monday night. I stopped on the sidewalk and took out an earbud, hoping that by devoting all of my senses to the pastel pinks above me, I could later remember what this felt like. I felt some sense of ownership over it all, a strange feeling of home.

I’ve been listening to the song “This Must Be The Place” by Talking Heads on repeat. In an attempt to be a cooler version of myself, I got into '80s music last semester. I hoped that the synths and big hair would somehow transmit into a more chill, skinny-jeaned Brianna.

“Home is where I want to be / but I guess I’m already there.” I walked back to Winthrop, passing the familiar brick-walled final clubs, willing the sunset to last for hours and hours. What does it mean to think of Harvard as home?

I swiped into Annenberg earlier this semester for the first time since freshman year. I don’t really know why, but looking up at the high ceilings, I almost cried. I remember what it meant to walk down rows of long tables, hoping to catch the eye of every attractive, high-achieving freshman classmate of mine as I took my mug up for more coffee. I remember the fear of dining alone among the stained glass and the chandeliers. Harvard wasn’t home back then.

“I feel numb, born with a weak heart / I guess I must be having fun.” This past Saturday was my birthday party. I wanted to surround myself with people that I liked on this campus—mostly people who were cool in that '80s sort of way, effortless in their nonchalance and thoroughly unfazed by the chaotic nature of this place. Of course, my closest friends and I don’t quite fit that description, but I wanted a celebration that embodied the low, throbbing synths and tight pants of an era that had passed before my own birth.

The room filled with people that I knew too well intermingling with people that I wanted to know better. I found myself hugging and dancing with almost-strangers, bonding over the cheesy playlist I had made, and hoping that they were having fun. It felt so good to be in a room of individuals who were connected by the fact that I had asked them to come. I saw freshmen walk through the door nervously, and I ran over to greet them. I remember walking into parties during my first year, at once fearful and exhilarated at the thought that an older student wanted to celebrate something with me around. I found myself sincerely thanking people for their presence at this party—it was probably weird to them, but I legitimately needed to say it. I felt loved—numbingly loved—in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. My heart was overwhelmed.

“Feet on the ground, head in the sky / It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong.” One of the most challenging things about this place is the shared feeling of solitude—the mutual aloneness. Last week in Winthrop dining hall, I sat one table away from a kid in one of my classes, each of us on a laptop, able to see each other over our screens, but avoiding eye contact or any acknowledgment that the other existed. I remember the first time that someone shared with me the words of Assata Shakur: “We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Then why is Harvard such a harsh place?

How am I supposed to feel at home in a place that was literally built by ancestors of mine in chains? How am I supposed to feel at home in a place where we share Crimson articles about mental health and compassion on Facebook, sitting across the room from each other and avoiding eye contact? How am I supposed to feel at home when this mixed girl doesn’t ever feel black enough or queer enough or anything enough to go to identity-based student organization meetings anymore? How have I managed, despite these things, to try to make Harvard my home?

“Home is where I want to be / Pick me up and turn me ‘round.” In one of my freshman classes, I learned that womens’ liberation groups used a tactic called consciousness raising, adapted from civil rights activists. Consciousness raising was a means of teaching feminists how to understand themselves individually in relation to the society they lived in. I want to do that with people here. I’m not being facetious when I say the cliché phrase, “Let’s grab a meal this week!” I actually mean it. Let’s build some kind of collective consciousness of ourselves and each other. Let’s build a home at Harvard.

Brianna J. Suslovic ’16 is a joint social anthropology and studies of women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Winthrop House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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