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beyond the gates
art and activism
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
“I experienced pity at the sight of this degraded and degenerate race, and their lot inspired compassion in me in thinking that they were really men." These were the words of Louis Agassiz, celebrated Harvard zoologist and well-known practicing racist, in reference to Americans of African descent in 1846 Philadelphia. Nineteenth century Harvard was the Harvard of old where White, wealthy males from New England made up almost the entire student body. Although slaves were no longer on campus with their young, studious masters—as had been the case in previous centuries—many students still had what were known as “scouts,” or Black servants who took orders from well-off White students while they were on campus. The first non-White student admitted to the college was Beverly G. Williams in 1847, though he died only a few months before the beginning of his initial year of studies from tuberculosis.
The first non-White Harvard College graduate did not come until 23 years later in the form of Richard T. Greener, an accomplished writer and public speaker who became a philosophy professor, law school dean, and foreign diplomat after his historic graduation in 1870. The first non-White Ph.D. recipient from Harvard was the more well-known W.E.B. Du Bois, NAACP founder, prolific writer, and leading figure in the scholastic emergence of sociology. However, few know that when Du Bois was a student at Harvard in the late nineteenth century he was not allowed to live in campus dormitories and was subsequently forced to rent a home in the Black section of Cambridge now known as Riverside. Du Bois viewed Harvard as a “defender of wealth and capital” and was first introduced to Marx at Harvard. He would eventually expatriate to Ghana and renounce his U.S. citizenship after joining the Communist Party and becoming disillusioned with capitalism and racism as practiced in the U.S.
Harvard's history of racial exclusion and unfair treatment continued throughout the twentieth century and still exists today in numerous guises. Various incidents between individuals have occurred on campus in the past year, and more will undoubtedly come. . One such incident happened in October of 2005 when a Black student in Pforzheimer House (Pfoho) was forcefully removed from the building and arrested by four officers for trespassing in his very own dorm. The event prompted Black student leaders and Pfoho tutors and staff to hold numerous meetings in an effort to further understanding and mitigate hostility. This was followed by a second incident in November, when a White person chased down a Muslim student walking by Lamont Library, yelling at them that they were a “filthy Jew hater.” Campus response was one of surprise, though publicity about the incident was relegated almost exclusively to a sole Harvard Crimson article. A third such incident occurred in February of this year, when Dean Judith Kidd sent out an e-mail warning the editors of The Harvard Salient, who had recently published the highly controversial Danish cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammad, to be careful in case the decision brought violence from the Muslim community on campus. Dean Kidd was soon forced to release a letter of apology after members of the Harvard Islamic Society and others on campus criticized her insinuation that Islamic students would resort to violence. These are just a few of the untold numbers of instances of racism happening on campus last year.
Collective or group racism has also been consistently displayed on campus. One such instance where this occurs is at the Fox Club's annual “Boxer Rebellion Party.” The Asian American Women's Association (AAWA) has vocally opposed the party, as it seemingly celebrates a highly violent massacre of both residents and foreigners in China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The blatant celebration of the massacre of thousands of Chinese citizens was, and is still, deemed racist. Requests to have the name of the party changed have gone unheeded by the Fox. Additionally, racism has entered the electronic realm through the Facebook with groups such as “Harvard White Men's Association”, a mockery of the many crucial race-based student groups on campus, and the “I should have gone to a Whiter school” Facebook group, which mocks the discomfort many students of color feel on our predominantly White campus. One other group incident on campus that stands out in particular involved a South Asian woman who was coming out of a party in Lowell and was grabbed by a White male after having racial slurs yelled at her by the all-White group that he was with. One of the comments that were purportedly said was that someone in the group wanted to “slaughter your people.” This type of inter-group terrorism still happens on campus, though the attention it garners is rarely one of substance for students, the administration, or the media.
Harvard's admissions process is another realm where racist practices exist as a framework for operation. Through the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program (UMRP) and the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI) Harvard is able to publicize its perceived commitment to a diverse student body along the lines of race and class. For Black students at least, Harvard is one of the few places where the predominant national congruencies between race and class do not exist, as Black students at Harvard are overwhelmingly middle-class and wealthier. UMRP has students return back to the cities and towns that they come from to recruit other minority students to Harvard, but this neglects the fact that most minority students at Harvard went to high schools where they were also in the minority. For most minority students at Harvard, a return to their high school would mean a return to their boarding school, exam school, or suburban high school – places where the few minority students that attend would probably already be familiar with Harvard. Harvard is still inaccessible to many individuals of the rapidly increasing minority sectors of the population. Very, very few Black and Latino high school students apply to Harvard, though they make up over one-quarter of the high school population in the U.S.
There are many areas where Harvard College can improve its race relations and work harder to end racism throughout campus. The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations functions as an awareness device for the University and, through its sponsorship and leadership of many student events on campus that serve its mission, works to bring about inter-racial and cross-cultural understanding. Much headway still needs to be made in this area, as the people who attend The Foundation's events are most often minority students and their diversity-embracing friends, hardly the majority of the college.
In terms of faculty appointments, the fact that most of Harvard's faculty members of color teach only about race and culture highlights the dearth of such professors in the departments relating to the arts and hard sciences. The core curriculum needs to be drastically re-worked to include courses related to the billions of people of Latin America, Southern Asia, and Africa (there are more Foreign Cultures courses offered on France alone than on the entire continent of Africa). Without measures to facilitate cross-community understanding, a faculty more demographically reflective of the student body, and more courses on areas of the world which many still harbor unsubstantiated or outdated images about, racism at Harvard will persist for countless commencements and convocations to come.r
Mental health and mental illness are often discussed at Harvard in an abstract, academic way, or only discussed in moments of crisis. In addition, you often will only hear information about Harvard mental heath services at freshman orientation, information that is quickly forgotten after classes are underway. Please use this article as a tool of reference when talking to friends and/or loved ones is not enough, if you just need to let off some steam, or if one of your friends needs help.
Although people often bad-talk Harvard’s mental health services, the sheer number of places to turn for help with mental illness gives you a fair amont of choice. If you don’t like one, you can always try another. Odds are, you will find a group or place that suits your needs.
University Health Services (UHS): Since psychiatric disorders and mental illness are indeed disorders of the brain (not simply “character flaws” or “behavioral problems”), the most basic resource would be UHS. You can see a psychiatrist, prescribing physician or nurse as many times as need be. However, there are a limited number of visits for psychotherapy and counseling, so if you will need long-term counseling, you may need to turn somewhere else for support. If you call to set up an appointment, you may get a date weeks from then. If you want to see someone sooner, stop by the mental health services (located on the 4th floor of UHS) and sign up for the drop-in urgent care, and you should be guaranteed a spot for that day.
Phone (Monday thru Friday ): 617-495-5711
Mental health phone (same as above): 617-495-2042
After hours/urgent care (after everyday, all weekend): 617-495-5711
Alcohol and Other Drug Services (AODS): This department is new and its team is still finding their niche. However, they are a great resource if you have a substance abuse problem or know someone who does. In addition, AODS enforces the unwritten rule that if you or someone you know is sick due to substance abuse, you will not get in trouble by seeking medical attention at UHS. If you stop by AODS, make sure to grab some free pens, chapstick, and maybe even a Nalgene bottle in abundance at the office. The Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisers in your dorm will also have educational materials available.
24-hour line: 617-495-5711
Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC): The BSC is a multi-purpose resource that provides tutoring services in additon to counseling services. The BSC is probably the most welcoming and informal places you can go to get mental health care. While you aren’t getting official medical attention, counselors at the BSC can be good for bouncing off ideas, pointing you in the right direction, and being there for you with empathy and the occasional snacks of apple juice and chocolate chip cookies. You can call the phone number provided to make an appointment, and the BSC can usually get you an appointment in the next week or two.
Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy Group (MHAAG): This student-run outreach group holds regular meetings and events that serve multiple purposes, including education, support, awareness and advocacy. While it’s a small group, MHAAG hosts interesting events ranging from weekly “safe space” discussion groups to having psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison speak at Emerson Hall. E-mail email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com to join the mailing list. MHAAG is continuing its launch of two programs: the Mental Health Liaisons and the Mental Health Mentors. The Liaisons provide education to the houses and host related events, while Mentors provide one-on-one, ongoing student support. Please contact Eunice Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the Mental Health Liason Program, and contact email@example.com for more information about the Mental Health Mentors Program.
Peer Counseling Groups: There are several different groups.
*Room 13 (617-495-4969) – Located in Grays basement, the office is open every night fom for students to receive counseling and information about Harvard procedures, roommate difficulties, alcohol, and other concerns.
*Peer Contraceptive Couselors (617-495-7561) – The PCC is a group of dedicated undergraduate men and women trained to answer basic questions about contraception, including information about regnancy, sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, and how to access care at HUHS. The office is located near the after-hours urgent care clinic in UHS, and its drop-in hours are on Sunday thru Thursday from to .
*Response (617-495-9600) – Response is a peer counseling organization staffed by women undergraduates to respond to issues of rape, acquaintance rape, sexual harassment, and relationship violence. The staff has been trained to provide confidential counseling and information on issues of rape, incest, abuse, and harassment, both psychological and physical. Their office is located in
* Eating Concerns Hotline and Outreach – (617-495-8200): Commonly referred to as ECHO, this group was formed to address issues related to eating disorders at Harvard. ECHO offers confidential peer counseling services at its office in F Basement of Quincy House from to , Sunday through Thursday. The hotline is staffed every night from to .
* Contact (617-495-8111) – Contact is a group of undergraduate peer counselors providing confidential support, counseling, and education on issues of sexual orientation. The undergraduate men and women who staff Contact have experience with coming out and being out issues and know a great deal about pertinent resources in the Harvard community. Contact is located in the basement of Thayer Hall. Hotline and drop-in hours are Thursday, Friday, and Sunday; from to 1 am.
*InCommon (617-384-TALK) – InCommon is a group of graduate and professional school students trained to offer confidential support and counseling to peers regarding such issues as relationship concerns, academic difficulties, and stress. The hotline hours are Sunday through Thursday, -.
Sexual Assault Prevention & Response: Established in 2003, this office was created to provide a safe space where victims of sexual assault can receive counseling and other forms of support confidentially. It has an abundance of on- and off-campus resources and information on sexual assualt available to students, and is accessible by phone 24 hours a day.
Office hours: (Monday thru Friday)
Accessible Education Office: This office is dedicated to making sure students with mental, physical, and physiological disablities receive proper accommodations and maximum access to housing, recreation, and above all, education.
Harvard University Police Department: If nothing else, HUPD can bring you or friends to UHS or to an emergency room if you’re unable to, and you will get a quciker response than if you dial 911. If you live on the Yard, you can call them if you are ever locked out of your dorm.
Phone (for emergencies or lockouts): 617-495-1212; (business line): 617-495-1215
In theory, major decisions about the future of Harvard College rest in the hands of the President and Fellows of Harvard College (also known as the Harvard Corporation) and the Board of Overseers. However, there is ample reason to believe that the former rules over the latter: many believe that the Board of Overseers' powers are ceremonial and many argue that it exists merely in order to confirm the decisions made by the Corporation. One author has even described it as “largely ineffectual”. Because of this fact, it makes sense to concentrate on the Corporation and its role in nurturing the college's antidemocratic climate.
In recent times, the Harvard Corporation (incidentally, the western hemisphere's oldest incorporated body) has consisted of six “fellows” who have no immediate ties to or financial/political interests in the university, and the President, who always serves on the board. The fellows serve for as many years as they deem appropriate, before choosing their own successors in total secrecy. There are two major reasons that Harvard's incoming first-years should be up-in-arms about this body:
Inaccessibility: The Corporation's meetings are (reportedly) held biweekly; however, the President and Fellows take pains not to disclose the location/time to the student body (although it is widely accepted that they meet at Loeb House, by Lamont Library). It is nearly impossible to affect the content of their discussions directly, as student petitions or demands are only heard at “their secretary's discretion”. This same secretary safeguards the minutes of all their meetings. Admittedly, the boards of governors at many multinational corporations conduct their business in similar fashion. However, Harvard is markedly distinct from those institutions. As a hallowed place of higher-education, it warrants a philosophy that rules out that kind of structure. First-years ought to reject the idea that our community can be handled from above (and the ideologies that accompany that belief); we all deserve a say in its future. In an editorial in the Crimson published in 2000, members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (then PSLM, now SLAM) wrote: “Our liberal education is founded on the principles of open dialogue and civic participation, while the authority of the Harvard Corporation demonstrates the contrary.” The class of 2010 should echo these sentiments as the year commences.
Elitism: Given this extreme exclusivity, it is perhaps unsurprising that the members of the Harvard Corporation have almost always been white, Christian males. It was not until 1985 that the body admitted its very first Jewish man. Three hundred and fifty years of absolute homogeneity had preceded his appointment. The first non-male member was a white, corporate attorney named Judith Richards Hope (in 1989). And it was not until the twenty-first century that the first person of color became a fellow. While superficial measures have been taken to correct this self-evident racism and sexism, the historical record merely reflects the perverse philosophy that underpins the Corporation. The very fact of its existence speaks to an unconscionable elitism. First-years should vociferously contest the belief that the University, with enormously diverse concerns and constituents, can be administered by a group of essentially identical individuals (ideologically-speaking, especially). As an example, what kind of prescience authorizes the Corporation to deliberate over the question of a living-wage without input from campus workers and/or union representatives? The elitist premise upon which the Corporation was founded is no longer acceptable in the global community; indeed, it was with the same claim to “expertise” that Europe conquered and exploited much of the world. As such, incoming first-years should demand that the College take tangible steps towards abolishing the Corporation and redistributing its powers to faculty, staff, and students.
* Every military recruiter on campus violates Harvard's own anti-discrimination clause, which states that the university is committed to operating “without discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity…” and “expects that all employers will act in compliance with this non-discrimination policy.”
* In recent years, Harvard has invited recruiters, not just from the Army, Air Force & Marine Corps, but from the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and Department of Homeland Security, to career forums and other events hosted by the Office of Career Services.
* Harvard has long been in bed with the C.I.A. Professors like Ernest May were paid for open research for the C.I.A. in the 80s, while others like Samuel Huntington were found to be conducting secret research on its payroll. There is no evidence that such research has ended.
* The C.I.A. has been implicated in the use of torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”) against prisoners illegally detained in Iraq and in secret prisons in Europe, in the kidnapping, assassination, and “extraordinary rendition” of Muslims around the world, and in historical assistance for everyone from Latin American death squads to the founders of Al Qaeda.
* The National Security Agency has been found to be tapping the phones of U.S. citizens without warrants. The Department of Homeland Security includes Immigration Enforcement, which holds hundreds of thousands of immigrants in detention camps, and Federal Emergency Management, famed for sitting on its hands during Hurricane Katrina while 1,800 people died.
(Sources: The Harvard Crimson, Office of Career Services, and www.cia-on-campus.org)
Contracting with the Pentagon:
Harvard received a total of $1.07 million in contracts from the Department of Defense in 2005.
* The University was paid $238,000 for “tuition, registration, and membership fees.”
* The College got four contracts worth $172,000 for “technical assistance” and “other professional services” (undisclosed) for 2005.
* The Kennedy School of Government got $486,000 for “training” programs in 2005.
* In 2004, Harvard Business School alone received five contracts worth $1.26 million.
* Little else is known about what kind of services the university is now offering the Pentagon.
(Sources: U.S. Department of Defense and www.governmentcontractswon.com)
Investing in War Profiteers:
* Harvard has $36.3 million invested in General Electric (G.E.), which makes billions in profits from building nuclear reactors and jet engines for use in bombers and other military machinery.
* $7 million is invested in Boeing, which profits from selling the military planes and helicopters, overseeing “missile defense” programs, and building “joint direct attack munitions” which regularly miss their targets, taking the lives of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
* $6.2 million is invested in United Technologies (a.k.a. Sikorsky), which makes its billions of dollars in profits from military helicopters, engines and missile systems that have inspired terror in civilians from Iraq to Lebanon, Somalia to Colombia and beyond.
* $3.7 million is invested in Halliburton, the oil giant which in one year procured $8 billion in profits from its military enterprises in Iraq. Its contracts soared 600% under the administration of Bush and Cheney, who served as its CEO and still gets millions of dollars from its profits.
(Sources: U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission and www.opensecrets.org)
The Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) is a mechanism through which all female undergraduates at Harvard may have their voices heard. RUS is an organization devoted to discussing and acting upon all issues important to women. We conduct panels, weekly dinner discussion groups, and events that ensure that the voices of all women are heard. In the past we provided grant money to organizations with women's issues as their primary focus. In light of the merger it is unclear whether we will continue in that capacity, but we hope to do so.
Our goals include getting more tenured women faculty, increasing publicity about issues pertinent to women at Harvard, holding panel discussions on women's issues, starting a first-year outreach program, and much much more!
We seek to address the fact that the administration often does not find it necessary to make undergraduate female voices heard. Our mentorship and outreach to first-year women will link them to an upperclasswomen and hopefully spark friendship and lend a nurturing hand to those new to Harvard. We would also like to host panel discussions during Frosh Week in which women's issues can be discussed. RUS wants the diverse women's community at Harvard College to be brought together and welcomed every year into a women-friendly environment. We are dedicated to bringing women's issues to the forefront of campus discussions at Harvard.
Mission Accomplished— RUS and other women’s organizations at Harvard have established at long last a new Women's Center on campus!
RUS History (as submitted to the Women's Guide to Harvard, June 2001)
At a time when there is no longer any such thing as a Radcliffe student, the Radcliffe Union of students seems a meaningless anachronism. Why should a group that, by the terms of the 1999 merger between Harvard and Radcliffe, cannot have any official contact with Radcliffe choose to name itself after that institution? There are several reasons why this name is still meaningful, for various reasons that, in an ideal world, would, like the title itself, be anachronistic. These reasons, however, are woven into the history of RUS and into the troubled history of women at Harvard.
Radcliffe's transition from an independent undergraduate college for women to a non-degree granting institute for advanced study with no students at all happened in two major steps. After being founded as the Harvard Annex in 1879, the institution soon-to-be-known-as Radcliffe accommodated female students but never actually had its own faculty. In Radcliffe Yard, female students were taught in gender-segregated classrooms by the same professors who taught Harvard students in Harvard Yard. The path to full coeducation began during World War II as classrooms were integrated, and moved further forward at the beginning of the 1970's when men and women slowly began to live together. The first of Radcliffe's two major steps away from undergraduate education took place in 1977, with the "non-merger merger" agreement, by which Radcliffe ceded much of its educational responsibilities to Harvard. Women were still admitted to "Harvard-Radcliffe" and received a different diploma from men when they graduated. The second phase of the process took place in 1999 with an official merger fully transforming Radcliffe into the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and removing "Radcliffe" from admissions certificates and diplomas.
The Radcliffe Union of Students was founded in 1969 partially in response to the difficulties women faced as the men's and women's colleges grew closer and closer. It intended to provide a student government more independent of sometimes overbearing administrative influences than the parallel Radcliffe Government Association. As the preamble to RUS' constitution reads: "We, the students of Radcliffe College, to maintain its identity as a distinct institution, and to represent, support, and encourage the interests of undergraduate women at Harvard University, have organized ourselves into a Union of Students." Since it was conceived with those words, RUS has made numerous changes still intimately felt by all Harvard undergraduates. The group was a major force, for example, in effecting the abolition of parietal rules, the restrictions that limited the hours of coeducational mingling in dorms and enforced curfews that would now seem absurd to undergrads. RUS also helped incite the campaign and continue the struggle for a committee on Women's Studies—a program that Harvard was the last Ivy to establish. As early as the '70's, RUS was also struggling to increase the University's still-abysmal number of tenured women. Harvard's sexual harassment policy and current security measures (like better lighting and escort services) are also due in part to RUS activism. A Women's Center, located in Phillips Brooks House, was established for sometime during the '70's, also thanks to the group.
These historical campaigns do not only suggest, however, that RUS was an important force in the past, when Radcliffe students were a disempowered minority, but also give us an idea of how necessary a group like it is in the present. Harvard was until now the only Ivy without some kind of space for women—a Women's Center. [In 2004, only 4 of 32 tenured positions went to women in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.] The Committee on Women's Studies still lacks departmental status and the power to give tenured positions. These are only examples, but clearly the struggle for equal coeducation has not yet been won. The mission of the current Radcliffe Union of Students, to be a visible feminist presence on Harvard's campus, follows in the tradition of this effort. We hope that the name of Radcliffe will continue to evoke a tenacious tradition of Radcliffe women—both to keep the history and current condition of women at Harvard vocal, visible, and alive, and to buttress, with their strength and experiences, our own participation in this long struggle.
by Jessica Rosenberg, RUS member class of 2004, June 2001
What’s in a name?
Part of the reason for our name is just history: RUS used to be the student governing body of Radcliffe College, much like the Undergraduate Council today. Between the 1977 agreement and the 1999 merger of Harvard and Radcliffe, RUS got $5 from every woman undergraduate's termbill, which we then redistributed to women's groups on campus.
After the 1999 merger we saw no need to change our name, since the college had stated there was no need for any student groups to remove Radcliffe from their names. We keep the name although all of our members are students at Harvard, and Harvard alone. We keep the name to remember the women who came before us: who had to clean rooms of Harvard students, who were not allowed into Harvard's Faculty Club, who could not enter Lamont Library until the late 1960's. Most of all we keep the name to remind us that Harvard has not always had any kind of commitment to educating women, and that with that lack of tradition we must be constantly watchful. There is still a long way to go.
by Lisa Vogt, RUS member class of 2001, 2000
Famous Radcliffe Alumnae
Alberta Scott, 1898 – first African American to graduate from Radcliffe
Margaret Atwood, 1947 - author 1962 masters degree from Radcliffe
Benazir Bhutto, ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Melissa Block, radio journalist, Co-host, All Things Considered
Caitlin Carson, actress
Stockard Channing, actress, famous for her roles in Grease and The West Wing
Amy Gutmann, Current president of the University of Pennsylvania
Abigail Folger, 1964 - American heiress and murder victim.
Helen Keller, deafblind writer, activist
Ursula K. Le Guin, American writer, poet
Elizabeth (Sadie) Holloway Marston, M.A. 1921 - co-creator of the comic book character, Wonder Woman
Anne McCaffrey, 1947 - Science fiction author
Gertrude Stein, American writer, poet, playwright and feminist
Abby Sutherland, cum laude graduate, head mistress, president, and owner of The Ogontz School for Girls. Sutherland deeded the school to Penn State in 1950.
Charlotte Wilder, M.A. - poet and eldest sister of Thornton Wilder
Feminist Bookstores in MASSACHUSETTS:
Center for New Words
The Center for New Words continues to sponsor regular events.
Radzukina's Gifts for Womyn
714 North Broadway
Haverhill MA 01832
Pride & Joy *
20 Crafts Ave.
Northampton MA 01060
Third Wave Feminist Bookseller
42A Green St.
Northampton, MA 01060
Recovering Hearts Book and Gift Store
2 & 4 StandishSt.
Provincetown MA 02657
Womencrafts Inc. *
376 Commercial St. / Box 190
Provincetown MA 02657
Radical Resources in the Area:
45 Mt Auburn St
Campus Women’s Center (Canaday Basement, B-Entryway)
But for all its faults, Boston’s a decent place to be young, socially conscious, and queer-friendly – not necessarily because it’s cornered the market on activism, culture, or nightlife, but because it’s got a little bit of something for everyone. You don’t necessarily have to venture outside the Yard to find a niche that you can call your own, because Harvard has plenty of diverse communities of its own. Still, there’s no reason to pass up on what Boston’s got to offer – and if you know where to find genderqueer slam poets, volunteer at a legal information hotline, and eat a Monkey Wrench, you’ll probably find that Boston seems infinitely more inviting.
Within the confines of Harvard Yard, the largest queer extracurricular organization is the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters’ Alliance (BGLTSA), which offers a jam-packed slate of community, political, and social activities throughout the year. The calendar changes to reflect the interests of the BGLTSA’s membership, but watch for the introductory meeting, Queer Thanksgiving, the Trans Day of Remembrance, the fall, winter, and spring dances, the Papodopolous Lecture, and Gaypril, a month of heightened visibility on campus. To really get plugged into the campus community, join the high-traffic Open List, which acts as a venue for the community to interact via email. If you want to share an article, start a debate, or solicit opinions, that’s the place to do it. (If you want to get dangerously close to committing libel, that’s been done too.) If you’re primarily interested in weekly updates from the BGLTSA itself, the low-traffic Announce List is a lighter (and way less amusing) alternative.
Girlspot is Harvard’s group for queer women and their supporters; in the past, the group has organized dinners, discussions, and a queer women’s film series that ranged from nuanced, insightful films about women in love to low-budget flicks about lesbian vampires. Still, Girlspot is also famous for its room parties, where there’s a decent chance that you’ll make out with someone who goes to school in rural Massachusetts but seems determined to spend the night in Cambridge. BOND, or Building on Diversity, officially seeks to provide safe, non-judgmental social space, which unofficially translates into dark, gin-scented pre-games and the occasional pizza-and-beer soiree. The Queer Asian Forum (QAF) grew from a popular Facebook group into an actual group with actual people, and those actual people have organized well-attended discussions and film screenings that range from issues of queer Asian identity to broader issues of race, sexuality, and grappling with multiple identities. If you’re interested in trans activism, a group of Harvard students, staff, faculty, and alums known as the Transgender Task Force (TTF) are a great way to get involved with policy issues on campus. Last year, TTF successfully lobbied the University to include gender identity in its nondiscrimination code, and set off a wave of similar decisions at institutions across the country. As the University tackles the responsibility that comes along with that decision, though, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Everyone should also read Trannies Talk Back (TTB), a series of essays published by trans students at Harvard. If you’re looking for coverage of all things queer, Quench, in its incarnations as a blog and zine, is one of the most fantastically irreverent publications on campus.
As a first-year, you can get involved in the groups that already exist, start your own organization, or act as an advocate for queer issues in other campus communities. Regardless, you’ll inevitably hear criticism that different queer organizations on campus are too reactionary, too complacent, too involved in queer life, too removed from reality, too political, too social, only draw very concerned students when those students happen to be very single and undersexed, are too focused on differences, and don’t take differences seriously enough. I’d venture that each of those assessments resonates with somebody at any given time. You can either consider that a scathing critique of existing organizations, or you can shrug it off as a testament to the diversity of queer communities on campus, but whatever you do, don’t let the shortcomings of existing organizations keep you from getting involved. It’s college, organizations change completely over the course of four years. And if you don’t get involved, there’s a good chance that awful people who are worse than you in every respect will take charge, and then everybody loses.
And whether you’re there to make posters for a rally, find a book for a class, or watch Trick on VHS, everyone has access to the Resource Center (RC), located in Thayer Basement, which has a lending library of books, magazines, videos, and DVDs and is staffed by student volunteers on weekdays from 11am to 5pm. It’s usually got food and safer-sex supplies, too, and functions as a well-utilized lounge where queer and heterosexual students congregate, watch DVDs, and try to do work. Generally, the RC is where papers and problem sets go to die, but it’s so awesome that nobody really cares.
You can also join First-Year Group, where queer and questioning first-year students meet every week in a safe, confidential setting to connect and get acclimated to Harvard. If you’re not quite sure where you fit into the campus scene or just want to get connected to the other queer and questioning people in your class, it’s probably your best bet. You can ask your proctor for details, or check the BGLTSA’s website for information on the first meeting. Whether you’re a first-year or not, you can also access Contact, a peer counseling group that specializes in gender and sexuality issues, by calling, dropping by the office, or applying to get trained as a peer counselor and help with the work they do.
The upperclass houses also host their own events, courtesy of the BGLT Tutors in each of the twelve residences. In recent years, Mather has had a queer women’s film series, Mather and Dunster have done must-attend morning-after brunches on Sundays, Currier has hosted Queer Eye screenings, Eliot has had a Queer Tea, and Lowell has had pre-professional dinners, guest speakers like Wicked author Gregory Maguire, L Word screenings, and history brunches. (And history brunches, by the way, are much, much better than they sound. If you’ve ever wanted to kick back with an omelet and watch old German films about star-crossed lesbians in boarding schools, well, welcome to Harvard.) For the most part, nobody explains where places like the Junior Common Room (JCR) or the Senior Common Room (SCR) are located in each house, which is especially frustrating when it’s winter and you’re totally lost. You’ll learn pretty quickly, but if you’re ever unsure, just drop an email to the organizer of the event, check each house’s website for a map of the building. If you can’t find the building itself, Harvard’s website has a map feature with the entire campus at your fingertips.
Overall, students across campus are doing a lot with gender and sexuality issues, but there are some things that undergraduates can’t provide – which is good, because you don’t want to get hormones, Prozac, or HIV-testing from the same people who you party with, as a general rule. Unless that person is Sara Kimmel, who heads up mental health services at University Health Services (UHS) and the Bureau of Study Counsel (“the Bureau”) on Linden Street. She won’t actually party with you (apparently, the medical profession is big on “boundaries”), but she’s incredibly approachable, and a great person to contact about queer health – and transgender health, especially – if you’ve got questions you’re not comfortable bringing to UHS. Depending on their primary care physician, students have reported different experiences at UHS, ranging from “wow, she asked about my ‘partners’” to “seriously, trust me, the swelling is not pregnancy-related.” I’m not even responsible enough to remember whether I’m allergic to any medications, so I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. If you find that you’re unhappy with your doctor at UHS, though, you should feel comfortable switching to a different one; Dr. Churchill, Dr. Osher, and Dr. Wang have gotten pretty high praise for their sensitivity to queer students in the past. You can schedule appointments with your doctor to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you’re sexually active, you can access UHS’s anonymous or confidential HIV testing services. Confidential testing is usually done by your primary care physician over the course of two appointments, is covered by your insurance, and the results can be released to employers and insurers under certain circumstances. Anonymous testing is administered orally by a trained counselor, costs $10 (although you won’t be turned away if you’re unable to pay for the test), and you’ll be asked to supply a code to identify yourself instead of your name. You can schedule anonymous testing by calling the Surgical Specialties Department at (617) 495-2139. It’s all on UHS’s website, but the less you have to navigate that, the better.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of Harvard, though, there’s plenty to do off-campus – and though extracurricular groups occasionally host outings, there’s no reason why you can’t get busy on your own. If you’re into high-octane coffee, vegan snacks, and shamelessly flirting with baristas who are walking sex, try Diesel, a queer women’s café near Tufts University in Davis Square. If you plan to stay and study, come early, because seating is scarce on weekends. (They push the garage theme; the Monkey Wrench is one of their better sandwiches, and the front of the café is a glass-paned, fully functional garage door that’s hoisted open on warm days.) The Milky Way Café is supposed to be another prime locale in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood that boasts impressive progressive and queer women’s communities. It’s a bit of a schlep, but might be worth it. The South End – on the Orange Line, within walking distance of the Back Bay stop – has blocks of cafes, specialty stores, and upscale restaurants, primarily geared at gay men. If you’re itching for corporate coffee, the Starbucks on Tremont Street is probably the gayest in Boston, but honestly, you can do better – Francesca’s doesn’t have a whole lot of seating, but it serves sandwiches, salads, and trademark drinks like the Sex on the Counter, the caffeinated, non-alcoholic equivalent of a Sex on the Beach. And if you’re interested in actually having sex on a counter, Good Vibrations in Boston probably stocks any and everything sex-related that strikes your fancy.
After hours, there’s not a whole lot that caters to the queer community on a nightly basis – most clubs have a weekly gay or lesbian night, and it’s a matter of finding your favorite and planning your life around that. If you’re 19+, the best night is probably Thursdays at the Embassy/Modern, which routinely devolves into a crush of sweaty people and the Top 40. For queer women, there’s Pink and Tribe; Avalon and Axis on Lansdowne Street tends to cater to gay men. In the past, ManRay in Central Square was a staple for fantastically sketchy parties on Wednesdays, and Aria in the Theatre District was uber-trendy on Thursdays, but ManRay finally closed after struggling to stay afloat for years, and Aria has lost a lot (like, almost all) of its clientele to Embassy/Modern. If you send an email a day or two in advance, you can usually get on the guest list and pay reduced admission. Whatever you do, always bring a state-issued ID – even at clubs that are 19+, the bouncers are pretty strict. For the most up-to-date information on admission, age restrictions, and schedules, check each club’s website. And if you’re not necessarily in the mood for clubbing, GenderCrash features a lineup of incredible open-mic performances on the first Thursday of every month, and the BGLTSA usually sends a sizeable contingent. In downtown Boston, Club Café has karaoke, and even though the bar is 21+, the super-cheap Thanksgiving buffet at the adjoining 209 is a must-try if you’re spending the holiday with the family instead of, um, your family.
It’s not quite Ibiza, but it’s easy enough to find a place in Boston to shake your ass and/or watch yourself. Still, there’s something admirable about giving back, too. You can check out regular volunteer opportunities at a variety of organizations, or seek out groups that organize projects on an ad hoc basis. Fenway is widely regarded as a hotbed for work on queer health, although the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project (GMDVP) and the Network/La Red have also done outreach on sexual health and violence, too. The Boston Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) and the Gay/Lesbian/Straight Education Network (GLSEN) might have opportunities to get involved in queer youth issues, if you’re committed to making a difference in that arena. If you’re ready to become a militant homosexual, there are plenty of political action groups – like MassEquality, the Queer Asian Pacific Alliance (QAPA), and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) – that offer opportunities to get involved. And if you just want to help out, Community Servings uses volunteers to help make meals for people living with HIV/AIDS and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) trains volunteers twice a year to work on its Legal Information Hotline. Whether you’re involved in queer activities at Harvard or not, Boston’s got some of the best NGOs and service providers in the US, so if you’re interested in activism, community organizing, fundraising, human rights, government, law, medicine, lobbying, public service, or anything else that’s remotely related to caring about other people, you’re in a good place to get pretty phenomenal experience.
Obviously, being queer doesn’t mean that that has to define you and the things you’re interested in, and being straight doesn’t preclude you from getting involved with gender and sexuality issues. Nonetheless, Harvard’s queer community is vibrant because it’s a diverse group of students advancing a diverse set of needs, and together, that group makes its presence felt. It’s rare to find a group that takes care of its members in the same way that the queer community strives to do; students staff their own Resource Center, counsel their peers, fight political battles on behalf of one another, and arrange social events that tend to kick ass. I think that’s rare, and I think it becomes infinitely more meaningful when you get beyond the divisions that exist and try to contribute whatever you’ve got. You can say a lot of unkind things about Harvard – and trust me, you will – but you can’t claim that there’s a shortage of opportunities to make a difference.
For more information on Harvard’s groups, check out: