Thursday, July 24, 2008

art and activism

(this is a short list of organizations, venues, bookstores etc. and is meant to open the doors to arts and activism in Boston, not provide a Yellow-Pages listing of them all. I reccomend that you visit any of the websites below and check their calendars and link pages for the most up to date information and listings of other great groups and events you can attend and participate in!)

Calendars and Event Listings

Open Mic Listings
General Open Mics:
Poetry Open mics:

At Harvard:

Spoken Word Society:

Harvard Arts Organization:
Contact: Alison Cohen cohen@fas, Rebecca Chase chase@fas, Caitlin Hartman chartman@fas, Weekly writing workshops; teaching opportunities, 1-2 open mics per semester


Theater. Incredible. Totally student established and Student Run. Talk to Shawna Strayhorn strayhor@fas

Cultural Agents Initiative:
Bridging the gap between artists and the academy. Internationally focused.

VES department:
Classes. Professors. Great opportunity and great access to materials. (also, check the back of the building for rich dumpster-diving)

Beyond Harvard:

(not really so much activism, but a great place to take capoeira and samba classes, dance, hear great music and meet lots of dope people, particularly those involved in the large Brazilian immigrant community of the Boston area)

Blackout Arts Collective (BAC) is a grassroots coalition of artists, activists and educators working to empower communities of color through the arts. We use the tools of culture and education to raise awareness and catalyze action around the critical issues that impact our communities. We believe in the power of the creative process to transform lives, mobilize communities, and build a more just society. BAC is a national organization that operates through local action facilitated by our seven city chapters. Contact a chapter near you for information about membership, events, or programming.

Boston Chapter
The second oldest chapter of Blackout has become known for its dynamic performances at local venues like the Lizard Lounge and Piano's and its spearheading of the first Lyrics on Lockdown Tour in 2001. Contact

There is a great performance of Vagina Monologues that goes on in Jamaica Plain in Boston each year, which focuses particularly on the LGBT community and issues surrounding gender and sexuality.

Create a safe space for girls and women to examine and explore issues in our lives, share our stories, heal fro m trauma, develop strategies for dealing with a wide range of issues and support each other as women.
* Girl's Rap: support groups, guided by licensed counselors where internalized sexism and other barriers that keep girls and women from meeting their full potential are examined and broken while supporting each other and healing from life's traumas and experiences.
* What's the 411: circles for young women to think critically about society, the world and history through social justice education while making positive change through organizing in collaboration with our communities.
* Street Theater: Members create, direct and produce plays, which express our ideas, experiences and spirits through theater, spoken word, poetry, dance, music, hip hop, instruments, and visual art.
New Programming / Coming Soon:
* Urban Word: a multi-media project aiming to engage youth not involved in youth programs and or school.
* Our Sisters Behind the Wall: a project led by R & S members working with girls ages 14-16 who are incarcerated.
* School Based Reflect and Strengthen: R & S is in the process of building collaborations with several Boston Public Schools.

Contact: Erik Wissa
Hip Hop youth activist program with well established roots in Boston. See their website for more details. Part of American Friends Service Committee.

Artists For Humanity's mission is to bridge economic, racial and social divisions by providing underserved youth with the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in the arts.

La Casa de la Cultura / Center for Latino Arts (CLA) is a cutting-edge multi-functional community arts center whose mission is to preserve and promote Latino art. Conveying to both Latinos and non-Latinos the vitality of contemporary and traditional Latino cultural expressions, the Center offers performances, exhibits and classes in a variety of art forms, including: Latin jazz, folk dance and music, poetry, theater and the visual arts. The CLA combines our Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center (converted into a 450-person capacity performance venue from a historic church in 1986) with a new community arts center (historically renovated from the adjacent parish house in 2003) that includes a gallery, dance studio and visual arts studio.

CLA's goals are to provide high quality and affordable: Arts Education, particularly for at-risk youth in Villa Victoria; Advocacy, Coordination, Support and Incubation for Latino artists and arts organizations; Exhibition, Work, Rehearsal, Performance and Rental Space; and opportunities for Cross-Cultural Collaboration between Latinos and the rest of the city's diverse populations. Celebrating Boston's growing diversity, the Center for Latino Arts is taking shape as a new landmark in the city that will transcend Villa Victoria and the Latino community and become a fixture engraved into the cultural life of Boston as a whole. La Casa de la Cultura / Center for Latino Arts is a program of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA). For more information, contact Javier Torres, Manager of the Arts and Culture Department at (617) 927-1737.

Contact: Giles Li
Boston Progress provides a safe space for Asian Pacific American perspectives to be expressed and observed through visual, performance and literary arts. Boston Progress seeks to build a sense of community among its membership, and outreach to APA communities by promoting the importance of art as a tool for community education and activism. Boston Progress values diversity of viewpoints in representing APA experiences and steadfastly opposes discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, age, appearance, disability or any other immutable characteristics.

EAST MEETS WEST BOOKSTORE (run by Boston Progress)
In Cambridge (right down Mass ave towards Central Square)
monthly open-mic series. completely volunteer-run (always looking for volunteers)

Contact: George Lee, Director: Mariama White Hammond
Project HIP-HOP (Highways Into the Past- History, Organizing & Power) is a youth-led organization. Hip hop culture and the history of resistance to injustice are our primary tools for engaging and developing young people as activists and organizers. We provide opportunities for young people to work together gaining the skills and experiences to educate and organize in their schools, communities and the broader society.

While we believe that movement requires the participation of many different peoples, Project HIP-HOP is particularly interested in building the skills of young people who are often labeled "at-risk." We believe that these youth are most in need of the resources we offer and are most keenly aware of the human reality of the injustices in our society.

Feminist bookstore
Monthly open-mic series

The mission of the Asian American Resource Workshop is to work for the empowerment of the Asian Pacific American community to achieve its full participation in the U.S. society.
We are a member-based organization that seeks to document the diverse Asian Pacific American histories, experiences, and social conditions. Our resource and activities are used to respond to current Asian Pacific American issues and to promote Asian Pacific American identity.
The AARW is located in the heart of Chinatown at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Beach Street 33 Harrison Ave., 5th floor, Boston, MA 02111.


Concert venue and restaurant that attracts both mainstream and underground performers. Also has had benefit concerts and welcomes local (even Harvard student) performers to the stage.

"Leftist Lounge is a gathering of people who strive to build a powerful social movement. We are people who believe that to mobilize for change, we must offer more than dry meetings with patronizing white liberals who attempt to contain real transformation. We understand that transformation is as personal as it is societal. Through celebration and affirmation of our creative power we can reshape the world...Leftist Lounge offers a sporadic party, giving space to the community to dance, eat, laugh, and inspire each other. We are the block party back in the day. We are there to celebrate life, creation, and change. You should be there too." (from website)
Location: Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center
85 West Newton St.
South End, Boston MA


In addition to leftist lounge, hosts many other events and performances.
The Jorge Hernández Cultural Center (JHCC) is a multi-functional dynamic rental facility converted into a 450-person capacity performance venue from a historic church in 1986. It is adjacent to La Casa de la Cultura (historically renovated from the adjacent parish house in 2003) that includes an art gallery, dance studio and visual arts studio.

beyond the gates

Boston is the city that made me fall in love with all cities. This could be due to the fact that Boston also happens to be the city where I was raised, but it could also be due to the diverse and plentiful activities, neighborhoods and cultures that Boston has to offer. Growing up, I would grab a friend and hop on the T without a second thought, ending up in Charlestown, or the South End, or Allston. Boston seemed to be the ultimate life-size playground, but then a funny thing happened during my first semester at Harvard: I barely left campus.

This tendency, I soon learned, is not a rare occurrence in the Harvard community, and the Harvard administration is all but supporting it. Indeed, Harvard students are very busy people, and we should all definitely be taking advantage of the resources that are offered to us on campus— but since I imagine many of us chose Harvard because of its urban environment, why should we ignore our city now that we’re here?

It’s not that Harvard had ever explicitly told me to not to venture into the diverse neighborhoods that surround Harvard Square, but the predominant culture of Harvard encourages students to stay within the cocoon of its gates. The student handbook offers little information about activities off campus, and the HUPD’s guide to staying safe, the “Playing It Safe” handbook, highlights a recommendation to walk on four “designated paths” throughout the Cambridge campus (for a map of these pathways go to: While the HUPD has actually mapped out the preferred place they want students to inhabit, it hasn’t offered any safe routes for traveling around the city. Perhaps the HUPD believes that the best spots for students is on those paths, and within the greater confines of Harvard’s watchful eye… These handbooks say little about public transportation and fail to list major urban cultural events that actually could enrich a student’s experience.

A resolution for the new school year should be to get off Harvard’s “safe paths.” There are seemingly endless neighborhoods and areas easy to get to from Harvard. One of the many things you could do is get on the 66 bus, it’ll pick you up right on JFK street, and head over to Allston to check out a tons of small restaurants, or a punk show at Regeneration. Check out other shows at The Abbey in Inman Square. You could take the T the end of the Orange Line, and wander around the Arnold Arboretum on a sunny day, or attend a poetry reading at the Spontaneous Celebrations community center in Jamaica Plain. Heck, just look for events that are close to home, like the World’s Fair festival in Central Square, or just go people-watching in Cambridgeport and admire the fact that everyone is not a college student! Riding a bike is a great way to explore the Boston area, and Cambridge is pretty good about having bike lanes. Check out the bicycle safety pamphlets that are offered in the basement of Dudley House.

Just like in any city, though, getting off a “safe” path also means that you need to of course be cautious in your actions and aware of your surroundings. This article’s ambition is to inspire people to push out of Harvard’s campus, and challenge and enjoy themselves in different environments; this experience must always include being aware of, and critically examining why one feels safe or not safe in a certain environment. Writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs (RIP), theorizes in her book The Life and Death of Great American Cities, that urban neighborhoods are in fact safer than secluded areas like suburbs, because city streets are often populated, and city dwellers tend to look out for eachother. If Jacobs’ theory interests you, I recommend checking out the aforementioned book, and if you’re specifically interested in the history of urban life in Boston, Ronald Formisano’s book Boston Against Busing discusses not only the “Busing” phenomena of the ‘70s, but also the cultural and historical character of Boston’s different neighborhoods.

Don’t get me wrong, one doesn’t necessarily need to leave Harvard Square in order to find some gems of Cambridge, but it becomes increasingly important to get off campus as Harvard Square increasingly resembles an outdoor mall. Gentrification, in the form of the corporate takeover of small independent businesses, has transformed the old Harvard Square from a bustling artsy intellectual center, to a land of chain stores. A prime example of the gentrification process happened at the corner of JFK and Eliot Streets. Where the Citizen’s Bank now resides, was once a little 24 hour diner called The Tasty. The guys behind the counter at The Tasty always had a nickname for you, and usually remembered how you liked your grilled cheese sandwich. In 1997 The Tasty was bought out, and an Abercrombie and Fitch branch was erected in its place. While the diner was always bustling, the clothing store had more trouble, and after a few years the bank moved in.

Whether the corporation be a bank or a clothing store, neither establishment can replace the personal connection that The Tasty brought to Harvard Square. Although this unique establishment and connection is gone from our neighborhood, that kind of connection still exists in many pockets and corners of Boston, and it’s just too good to be missed.

campus media guide

The lowdown you won't find in the front pages or comp meetings of Harvard's official media.

The Crimson:

The Harvard Crimson bills itself as “the only breakfast-table daily newspaper in Cambridge, MA,” your only source for news on campus and off. Since its founding in 1873 as The Magenta, The Crimson has maintained a virtual monopoly on news coverage of what's going down in and around Harvard University, with a staff of several hundred and a daily readership of 14,000.

The Crimson is a private corporation, officially independent of the university. Yet the newspaper is still subject to close scrutiny and interaction with the Harvard administration and with various advertisers. For years, The Crimson has taken part in regular meetings with the president and the deans of the university. It also has a whole department dedicated to relations with “Business.”

The paper is structured just like a private corporation, with an executive leadership known as a “Guard,” including a president, managing editor, business manager, and extensive executive boards in the News, Editorial, Business, Magazine, Sports, Arts, and other departments. Though the real power is in the hands of the executives, all staff writers are granted the status of “editor.”

All aspiring staff writers are subjected to a complicated “comp” process, whereby editors extract many of their news stories, editorials, reviews, and other material from willing “compers.” Sometime in the last month of every semester, a new class of “compers” is inducted into the staff of The Crimson through an elaborate ritual known as “elections.”

The Crimson's News Board makes claims to objectivity and fairness in its reporting. However, it is subject to the criticism from the Left that its coverage is overly favorable to the Harvard administration and big corporations, and to familiar criticism from the campus Right that its coverage is overly “liberal” and antagonistic to the policies of the Bush administration.

The Editorial Board issues both signed opinion editorials and its own unsigned opinions every day in the name of “The Crimson Staff.” These opinions have swung to the Right in recent years, coming out in staunch support of discriminatory groups on campus, the occupation of Iraq, free market economics, and the administration of Larry Summers.

Though a Diversity Committee and financial aid fund were instituted in recent years, The Crimson still faces allegations of bias and exclusivity. Out of the last 6 Editorial Chairs, only one has been a woman. Out of 18 columnists published by the Editorial Board last year, only 3 were people of color.

But it's not fixed in stone. The Harvard Crimson is a vast enterprise with a volunteer staff open to all Harvard undergraduates. With people like you, it could be a different kind of newspaper.

To comp The Crimson: Attend a comp meeting for one of the boards in September or February.

To tell The Crimson about a news story: Email and call 617.576.6565

To submit an Opinion Editorial (650-900 words) to The Crimson, email it to or pcbrzez@fas.

To submit a Letter to the Editor (50-200 words) to The Crimson, email it to

Other Campus Media

Note: A fresh alternative newspaper may be coming soon, to be published by the editors of the “Disorientation Guide,” and maybe you! Editors, writers, and artists wanted. To get involved, contact ausmani@fas, mgould@fas, or mroosev@fas.

The Harvard University Gazette

This is the weekly publication of Harvard's PR wing, the Office of News and Public Affairs, the same people who run the university website. It is crafted to keep the shine on the university's image and put a positive spin on any and all campus news. Everything that goes into the Gazette is approved by the Office and by “the President and Fellows of Harvard College.”

The Harvard Independent

The “student-run weekly newsmagazine” of Harvard College. Founded in 1969 as an alternative to what was, back then, a more left-wing Crimson. The Independent or “Indy” now offers a range of content centered around news, student life and the arts. Though it tries to compete with The Crimson, the poor weekly has never managed to be taken as seriously as other publications.

The Harvard Advocate

The “premier literary magazine of Harvard College,” claiming to be the oldest college literary magazine in the country. The Advocate seems to be published primarily for the enjoyment of self-styled literati and glitterati. “Mother Advocate” is admired in the literary and art worlds, but like other Harvard institutions, it has also been subject to accusations of elitism and pretension.

The Salient

Harvard's own “naturally conservative” journal, a well-funded and well-run publication. The Salient is infamous for its publication of anti-Islam cartoons attacking the prophet Mohammed, and an editor's call for the College to “reestablish standards of morality and strongly consider disciplinary measures for those violating them…even more so to homosexuals.”


Presented as Harvard's “Liberal Monthly,” Perspective or “Perspy” is the counterpart to The Salient, but less controversial and quite harmless. Its content tends toward invective against George Bush and support for Democratic politics, and it shares much of its leadership and readership with clubs like the College Dems, Environmental Action Committee, and BGLTSA.

Harvard Political Review and Harvard International Review

These are the two student publications with the closest ties to the political establishment. The Political Review, published by the IOP, tends to cozy up to political figures and rarely stray from the political center. The International Review is intimately connected to the U.S. foreign policy establishment through its celebrity authors and its publisher, the International Relations Council.

Online Media

In recent years, campus blogs have gained both fame and infamy for their timelier, edgier coverage and commentary about goings-on at Harvard and beyond.

Cambridge Common
(, the most widely read of the Harvard blogs, run by progressive politicos since 2005 as a virtual “common” for campus dialogue and dissent.

Quench Zine ( is a creative zine, self-published online and in print by a collective of queer and transgender students at Harvard.

Dem Apples ( is the official website of the Harvard College Democrats, and Red Ivy ( is its Republican foil.

Immigration Orange ( is another site started by a campus politico, this one for debate and discussion on issues of immigration, borders, and foreign policy.

And, if you're not satisfied with what's out there, start your own blog at, a network for student blogs. “This is your campus,” it says. “Go ahead, say something.”

Alternative Sources of Info

“The Democracy Center” is a free space, independent media center, and political and cultural venue near Harvard Square at 45 Mount Auburn Street (next to Tommy's Pizza and Daedalus). It was opened up by Harvard students and Boston residents in 2004. Among many other groups, it now hosts the Papercut Zine Library, a public lending library with a collection of over 6,500 independent publications. Papercut's collection includes: Politics, personal, education, fiction, poetry, music, humor, health and sex, art and film, cooking and food, race, class, gender, queer issues, environment, travel, foreign language, and more. Membership is free. Open daily 2-7 pm.

Lucy Parsons Center is one of the best alternative bookstores in the Northeast, with a well-stocked collection of new, used and bargain books, and more than 200 magazines, newspapers, and journals. The LPC also carries posters, postcards, shirts, and political paraphernalia of all kinds. Frequent in-store events include reading and discussion groups, poetry, music, and free film nights every Wednesday. Open every day from 12-9pm. Located in Boston's South End at 549 Columbus Avenue (Take the Green E line to the Symphony stop, or the #1 Mass Ave. bus).

Independent Bookstores in Cambridge:

The Harvard Bookstore is the independent place to go for new and bargain books in Harvard Square (the Coop was bought out by Barnes & Noble long ago). It also hosts free in-house events with authors and critics every week. Located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

Grolier Poetry Book Shop is the oldest independent bookstore in the area, stocking 15,000 poetic works in its little storefront. For eighty years now, it has been a destination of choice for radical writers like e.e. cummings and Allen Ginsberg. Located at 6 Plympton Street.

Revolution Books is where the People's Republic of Cambridge goes for all things communist and socialist. Revolution is run by the Revolutionary Communist Party, which some people have found to be a “Maoist cult.” An interesting place nonetheless. Located at 1156 Mass. Ave.

Raven Books is Harvard Square's only independent destination for used books. Raven has strong collections in alternative literature, art, history, political theory, philosophy, and anthropology, and adds over 1,000 books a week. Will buy your books too. Located at 52-B J.F.K. Street.

More Books for Free:

Public Libraries are the local pit stops for those who can't find what they're looking for in Lamont or Widener. The Cambridge Public Library is located at 45 Pearl Street, just off Mass. Ave. near Central Square. The Boston Public Library is at 700 Boylston Street at Copley Square.

final clubs

A final club is a specific type of single-gendered exclusive social group made up of Harvard students. There are eight male final clubs at Harvard: The A.D., The Delphic, The Fly, The Fox, The Owl, The Porcellian, The Phoenix and The Spee. Each of these clubs owns a piece of property in Harvard Square that is appraised in the millions of dollars. Additionally, there are five female clubs: The Bee, The Isis, Pleiades, The Seneca, and Sabliere. Of these, only the Bee possesses property in the square. Though most of this article will focus on male final clubs, it is important to note that the proliferation of female final clubs does not adequately address the injustices of the male final club system.

Though similar to fraternities, final clubs are different in several key respects. First, final clubs do not house club members. Second, final clubs are not affiliated with larger, national organizations. Lastly, Harvard University no longer recognizes final clubs as official campus groups, although this is only a recent development. Up until 1984, Harvard not only recognized but financially supported final clubs from the time of their inception, in that year the college gave the clubs an ultimatum: go co-ed or go private. The clubs unanimously chose to preserve their exclusively male membership.

Final clubs have a long history at Harvard, the oldest of them dating back to the 18th century. Over the course of each club's history, it has developed a network of graduates whose continued involvement in club practices and patronage toward club members shows these institutions to be much more than social organizations. The nepotism of club graduates has turned on campus social groups into far-reaching and powerful financial and business networks, both unabashedly partial and of their nature discriminatory.

By not allowing women into their clubs, final club members and their governing boards of graduates (“grad-boards”) create unfairly gendered networks and social spaces alike. The atmosphere at final clubs is undeniably a hetero-normative and male-dominated one. This environment fosters not only sexism and homophobia but also, and much more troublingly, sexual assault. Though Harvard will not release figures revealing where on campus sexual assault occurs, in 2002 Assistant Dean of the College Karen E. Avery '87 told female first-years to be aware of "potential dangers that have been reported in regard to final clubs." Many women will not attend final club parties without groups of friends because of the intimidating environment they find inside. Large groups of women flocking to clubs together, though, by no means solve the problems they face inside.

Final clubs are sexist, self-serving and elitist institutions. And though hardly as discriminatory as they once were, it should come as no surprise that final clubs membership is largely heterosexual, affluent, and white. Not to mention of a single sex.

However, neither female final clubs nor co-ed ones are an adequate solution. Female final clubs are likewise exclusive and discriminatory. Co-ed clubs are likely to be as elitist as final clubs. They too would be more than just social clubs. Harvard's growing fraternity and sorority scene begets many of the same problems. At other schools, students are provided with more neutral spaces on campus to congregate. Harvard has thus far failed to provide its students with such an alternative. However, this hardly means that there is nothing to do but go to final clubs. On the contrary, these clubs are just one facet of Harvard's social scene. And one should add that the only way to stop final clubs is to stop supporting them. Going to and joining final clubs means to tolerate the sexism, elitism, and nepotism that they facilitate. For the socially conscious Harvard student, these are institutions not only to avoid but to expose for what they are and for the unjust practices they perpetuate.

Facts on Final Clubs

FINAL CLUBS: The A.D., Delphic, Fly, Fox, Owl, Phoenix, Porcellian, Spee

Finals Clubs are male social clubs. Women cannot be members.

Men join the clubs through a selection process called “punching,” usually in their sophmore year. One Spee punch event was comprised of taking a bus to Wellesley College to play football, drinking vodka on the bus and looking at porn.

The clubs have a long history of affiliation with Harvard. Though they are privately owned, their records are kept in the Harvard archives, and until 1984, Harvard was including membership in yearbooks, and paying for their heat and phone services.

In 1984, the clubs privatized under pressure from Harvard, because they violate the school’s non-discrimination policy.

They are now governed by “grad boards,” groups of club alumni who own the property.

The graduate inter-club council meets with Harvard administrators at least once a year.

Final clubs are privately owned, but sit in the middle of Harvard’s campus.

They are comprised solely of Harvard men, and at least 10 % of Harvard males will belong to them at some point.

Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice have shown that all-male social spaces are high risk environments for sexual assault.

Harvard administrators have warned students about sexual assault and Final Clubs. Dean Karen Avery said to the Crimson that she hoped to “raise freshman awareness to some of the potential dangers that have been reported in regard to final clubs,” including date rape drugs and sexual assault.

Some Final Clubs activities have included the Owl’s demeaning “Catholic School-Girl Night,” and videotaping Harvard students’ breasts, and filming women performing fellatio and kissing each other in front of the camera.

The combined property values of the eight clubs is $ 15,537,900.

The scheduled date of completion for Harvard’s new student center in Allston will be 2019.

If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault, please contact the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at 617-495-9100 or email

Monday, July 21, 2008


While many members of the class of 2010 may harbor reservations about certain aspects of the Harvard experience, few incoming first-years seriously doubt the credentials of the education it promises. Harvard's reputation for academic excellence precedes it. Certainly, the myth is not without its merits; first-years will find some excellent professors and classes in the years they spend here. However, this fact should not paper over the serious cracks that appear upon closer scrutiny. In particular, first-years ought to engage Harvard's economics department with serious skepticism and a critical eye.

Ec10 and the Economics Department
“Social Analysis 10: Principles of Economics” is Harvard's official introductory economics course. It is consistently one of the most popular classes at the College; the vast majority of Harvard students are first exposed to the study of economics under the tutelage of its experienced professor, Gregory Mankiw. Consequently, we can agree that it is particularly important that the course maintain high standards. At the very least, as an introductory course, it ought to encourage critical thinking and cover a wide array of ideas and theories. Tragically, Ec10 fails miserably, on both counts. First: partly because TFs teach the conceptual content of the course, all lectures and most sections disaffiliate students from their critical capacities. Instead, students answer bland problem sets without ever contemplating the deeper social realities the abstractions supposedly model. Second: Ec10 ignores the immense ideological diversity within the wider field of economics, especially when one looks back through time. Marx, one of history's greatest and most influential economists, does not appear in the course material. In response to this kind of critique, we often hear that students are taught the “consensus” and/or “the tools they need to succeed”. However, first-years ought to demand much more from their education: we deserve a thorough introduction to the science, as well as familiarity with its shortcomings. Thus, when we learn that efficient markets beat inefficient central-planning every time, we ought also to be told that alternative systems of economic organization have been envisioned. When we learn that privatization of companies keeps prices low and quality high, we ought to hear the outstanding benefits of state- or democratic control of those same industries. When we hear that, more or less, the world improves as capitalism is consolidated, we ought to hear the voices of those exploited sets of people for whom the consolidation of capitalism means permanent servitude of the worst kind.

Generally-speaking, this bias in the kinds of perspectives presented to students reflects the composition of faculty in the economics department. The chief economists of the Reagan and Bush administrations, Martin Feldstein and Mankiw, both reside and teach at Harvard today. In fact, with the exception of a few years, one of this pair (mostly Feldstein) has taught Ec10 to most everyone who has taken it in the last few decades. In this vein, few economics classes here will ask students to challenge conventional economic theory. Instead, in direct violation of the college's liberal arts tradition, the department of economics at Harvard molds its concentrators into automatons who uncritically embrace the status-quo, ready for deployment at the nearest investment bank; economics classes at Harvard reek of pre-professionalism. Again, one could argue that economics courses at other colleges prepare their students for similar goals in similar ways. From a very general standpoint, that fact is indisputable; it illustrates the manner in which our educational systems facilitate the existence of the system in which we live: under mainstream economic theory, privilege is earned and poverty deserved, no ifs or buts about it. People prosper because they make the right decisions, end of story. According to what's taught, free trade and open markets facilitate this process by discovering the individuals that deserve prosperity. Conveniently, mainstream economics refuses (or lacks the capacity) to consider the systemic oppression many individuals have to navigate. In that way, it rationalizes and makes palatable the blatant suffering upon which our Harvardian privileges depend (for example, think of our janitors, our dining hall workers, our security guards, and more)

The “Washington Consensus” at Harvard
Aside from affording mainstream economics uncritical preeminence in its classrooms, Harvard – as an institution – has also played an active role in shaping national policies to embrace free markets, free-trade, and the like. For example: in the early-1990's, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) paid Harvard and its employees to oversee the privatization of Russia's previously state-owned industries. Ideally-speaking, Harvard's team of experts, led by Professor Andrei Shleifer, were appointed in order to make Russia's transition to capitalism painless. In reality, the US government brought a lawsuit charging Shleifer, his wife, his assistant, and his assistant's wife with insider trading (buying Russian stocks while under contract). Harvard and Shleifer eventually settled the lawsuit for a whopping $26.5 million. Of course, Shleifer, one of former President Larry Summers' close friends, is still a tenured professor at Harvard.

On a related note, it is also worth mentioning that Larry Summers – who will reportedly return to Harvard in the prestigious role of University Professor in the 2007-2008 academic year – oversaw the intensification of the World Bank's commitment to precisely the kind of theory prevalent in Harvard's economics classrooms. In his time as its Chief Economist, the World Bank required countries asking for loans to adopt certain structural adjustments (opening up their markets, lowering their trade barriers, etc.). Yet, apart from the fact that this relationship belies democratic values and creates all sorts of elitisms, structural adjustment plans have been largely unsuccessful, so much so that the Bank has begun to distance itself from them. It goes without saying that this kind of history will remain hidden in the fanfare that will inevitably accompany Summers' return.

The class of 2010 should think very critically about the state of economics at Harvard. It is certainly true that one can learn quite a bit from some of the economics professors here; no criticism of the department or the discipline ought to obscure that fact. However, first-years ought to be very wary of unthinkingly subscribing to the mainstream, as most economics classes will encourage them to do. Our education ceases to be meaningful when it stops asking us to pose challenging questions and permits us to accept comfortable answers.