Dear Harvard Guy,
Dear Harvard Guy,
So here we re at the beginning of another semester. While the tan lines of summer may soon fade, my memories of last year have not. That’s why, Harvard Guy, I want to outline some of my thoughts for you before the year steps up into high-gear. You see, I feel like there have been some misunderstandings between you and I, and I want to clear some things up before we really get into the thick of it this semester. I’m going to tell you what I need from you, Harvard Guy, so we can start off the year on the right foot, so the same mistakes will not be made.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that people who looked like me were not allowed at this school fifty, heck even thirty, years ago. When we were finally allowed in, we had separate admissions (only 1 woman was allowed in for every 4 men), we were prevented from entering certain libraries (Lamont Library was only opened to women in 1967), we also had separate degrees. Men were given Harvard Degrees and women Harvard Radcliffe Degrees until 1999.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that this is a long history of this institution fighting to keep people like me out. I need you to understand that I still feel this history every time I step on campus and interact with people. It is inescapable and creates a complicated environment for me to wrestle with every day.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, the exhaustion I feel every day on my walk home when I look up at the buildings and see men literally looking down at me. They are placed in central squares, on the top of buildings, in public places, to be revered and admired. But I know, and I suspect you do too, that these people used logic to keep deny people like me entry into this university. It is maddening to continuously be expected to display some degree of gratitude exclusively for historical figures who carried out sexist/racist/homophobic initiatives, and at the same time, never be able to look up at others who also had a key role in this institution’s history, and were fundamental in paving the way for people like me to be here.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that at the end of every day when I go home and am able to recount more compliments I received for my hair and makeup than academic work, it’s a frustrating day. Sure, I appreciate kind words, but I am here to be an active participant of various academic pursuits, not some sort of wall-art for you to stare at. Understand, that when I have been told (several times) that I do not look like the typical graduate student I know exactly what that means and do not consider it a compliment.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that it is infuriating to be required to take courses that fail to consider people who look like me. Better yet, that those courses are often considered more “serious” and “academic.” To find courses on people like me I have to turn to the “soft sciences” and spend time in the department of Gender and Sexuality Studies, which by the way, isn’t even technically a department (it is a “study” that falls under the Department of Sociology). Because, you see, to study people like me I have to go to the area that is specifically designated for me. The rest of it was not created for me, it was created for you. I need you to understand the importance of organization and implementation, Harvard Guy, and how it persistently excludes certain people and includes others.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that when I come into an introductory class, look at a syllabus, and see that it has only one required reading by a female author that is four pages long, I want to scream. When we get to the point in the semester where we finally have the chance to discuss her writing, and then don’t, understand that I want to give up right then and there.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that when a girl is raped behind a dumpster in California, that impacts me here in the Northeast. Because I know deep down that her fate could have just as easily been mine.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that I am only speaking for myself as a white cisgender woman. There may be other white cisgender women who disagree with what I am expressing to you now. That’s okay. That in no way invalidates what I am saying and should not be used as a tactic to challenge my feelings and perceptions. Instead, accept what I am telling you as my experience. Women make up over fifty percent of the world’s population. Even though we share this gendered identity, we experience it in different ways and have other identities that uniquely affect us. Try to understand those complexities opposed to using one woman’s thoughts to refute another’s.
I need you, Harvard Guy, to understand that there are so many people here who have different identities, backgrounds, and experiences than you and I. On this campus we have people of color, homosexual or queer people, people who come from war-torn countries, transgender people, poor people, disabled people, types of people with whom neither of us have ever interacted before. This short list is a poor summary of all those who are here. However many years we spend here is our time to interact and get to know one other. It is our time to listen. I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that I can’t speak for these people but I do ask that you join me and take the time to listen to what they have to say. Don’t silence. You’ll learn more from your peers than in the classroom.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that when I call you out for some **sexist/racist/homophobic/etc.** shit you pull in a class that I disagree with, that doesn’t mean I think you’re a bad person. I know you are smart enough to correct yourself and I expect you to call me out if I slip up as well. I need you to understand that it is annoying for me to have to pause and clarify this for you because you’ve probably been given gold stars your whole life, and I don’t think another is exactly what you need right now. But for us to communicate more effectively, I need you to understand that I do not see you as bad person but I do see some of what you perpetuate through conversation and action as bad. Understand that shit needs to stop.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that I struggle to go home and tell my family how school is at the end of every year. Last year beat me. I expected to come to Harvard and find people who were liberal, accepting, understanding. I expected to find a home that allowed all forms of creativity. I didn’t. That reality was hard for me. I was depressed. I wanted to speak out, and often did, but felt guilty because I know that there are people in the world and on this campus who are experiencing much worse. I understand that it is a huge privilege to be here, but this privilege is not justification to silence me when I speak out about the various forms of discrimination I face on a regular basis.
I need you to understand, Harvard Guy, that academic matters are not just of the head but also the heart. This is a cliché, sure, but its true.
I need you to understand these things, Harvard Guy, because if you do then maybe things can improve between us. Maybe we can work together more effectively and see each other as more complicated people. Maybe that will lead to some really interesting academic work. Maybe, Harvard Guy, if you understand these things, then just maybe whatever it is that exists between you and I can pour over and affect something larger than us both.