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To not be liberal at Harvard is to be unacceptable. In your classrooms, in your conversations, you are intellectually illegitimate, your contributions having little value compared to your progressive peers. It’s easy to feel like you don’t belong anywhere when your thoughts don’t belong anywhere. And yet, to my non-liberal peers, and to all the future students of Harvard, I find myself sharing a hopeful message: If you choose to share your non-mainstream views, you will be forced into the greatest education of your life.
There are, regrettably, problematic institutional and cultural issues at Harvard regarding intellectual diversity. The growing culture of self-censorship is being pushed by an unintelligible and untenable “woke” standard. Students and faculty filter everything they say. We are becoming intellectually homogeneous, despite important and necessary strides in socio-economic and racial diversity. Harvard’s pool of thought is shrinking, and thus, its quest towards Veritas is impaired, hindered by the self-indulgence of the ideological mainstream.
Through this column, I have articulated the culmination of many issues I have witnessed at Harvard. Along the way, my writing has been propelled by the frustration I had about Harvard’s trajectory. Was I the only one feeling this way? Much of my frustration flowed from a place of hopelessness for an academic institution I truly love and respect. At the same time, I feared the high social cost of saying something unpopular or of being misconstrued.
So I pondered every word, researched every statement, and reviewed my pieces fervently and even anxiously. I was forced to hone my opinions and speak deliberately. Given Harvard’s overwhelmingly progressive environment, this is not a necessity for students that think in the mainstream.
But, to my great surprise, with each article, each illustration of frustration, I saw glimmers of hope. Students of all partisan bents, professors of all disciplines, reached out to offer their quiet support, their acknowledgment. My fears of being “canceled,” of being socially shunned, did not come to fruition. I was met with respectful debate or (private) agreement.
And even then, I still worried about speaking out on my own. I needed a space where Harvard’s social cost melted away for me to truly refine, change, and articulate my ideas.
I learned that always being at odds is only possible with a network of friendship. Despite my many differences with the institution, the friends who have defined my four years here, embracing my differences, have enabled my time at Harvard to be positive and personally enriching, giving me a space when I thought there was none.
You can’t be an outsider with a friend, for it is just you and them, reckoning with each other’s triumphs, failures, flaws, and quirks. In fact, it’s your unique tendencies that make you a friend.
Michael Oakeshott, a conservative philosopher, wrote that friendship is inherently conservative in its tendency to savor someone for who they are in the present, quirks and all. He writes “to discard friends because they do not behave as we expected and refuse to be educated to our requirements is the conduct of a [person] who has altogether mistaken the character of friendship.”
A true friend, to Oakeshott, is not someone who “holds certain acceptable opinions” but someone that “engages the imagination, who excites contemplation, who provokes interest, sympathy, delight and loyalty simply on account of the relationship entered into.” Friends do not serve a purpose and do not conform to a standard; they are friends because they do neither. And you are a friend because you are attracted to this singularity: “One friend cannot replace another,” Oakeshott says.
Oakeshott encourages us to accept each other at face value, to not discredit someone for what they are not, but to celebrate them for what they are. But I will push him one step further: Yes, we should celebrate the present version of a friend, but we must be ready for that friendship to change us. Friendship is dynamic, transformative, even.
The greatest hope I have for change at Harvard, and the greatest gift it has given me, is friendship. Each and every one of my friends has pushed me in this column. From self-proclaimed Marxists, to free marketeers, to those indifferent to politics, my friends shared their wildly different viewpoints and backgrounds with me. They read my drafts, challenged my ideas, told me when I was wrong, and celebrated me when I was right. Each one helped shape the final product with their own unique approaches and views. What I feared would be a project that would alienate me from them, through late-night phone debates or conversations outside on warm days, turned into something that brought us all closer.
The feeling of safety in a friendship allowed me to have difficult conversations in which I could make mistakes and be challenged without fear of ostracization. In the end, I know that I was able to refine my views. What a joy it would be to have the same sense of mutual respect and collaboration in the classroom rather than the feeling of constant pressure to say the right (woke) thing.
So while Harvard gave me hostile classrooms and one-sided social norms, it also gave me my friends, the source of my greatest pride, my education, and my hope. If the Class of 2025 — Harvard’s most diverse class to date — is blessed with the friendships I’ve encountered, they will be able to openly learn from their differences, “exciting contemplation” in each other.
Though I have spent thousands of words in this column enumerating Harvard’s problems, I will take now to offer it a solution: sound friendship. Change begins on an interpersonal level when we give each other the margins to express ourselves, to make mistakes, to be corrected, to correct, and ultimately, to feel safe in growing. Friends help us find our Veritas.
Despite my frustrations, Harvard will be the most difficult goodbye I have ever faced because of the people that made sure I belonged. For Oakeshott writes, “What is esteemed is the present … Stay with me because I am attached to you.”
How I wish my friends could stay with me.
Carine M. Hajjar ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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