Politics and Protests Rock the Start of Fall Semester 


Students do not hesitate to get involved.  



Amid (or perhaps, in some cases, instead of) shopping classes, many students on campus have begun their political involvement early and are seeking to get freshmen involved as well. A slew of events hosted by a variety of campus organizations have sparked conversations on social media and in courtyards and dining halls. 

At the close of Labor Day weekend, eleven women student leaders gathered in Fong Auditorium to discuss female leadership on campus. The panelists, leaders in organizations ranging from Divest Harvard to PBHA to Women In Business, spoke about their experiences in leadership and encouraged women to get involved in their organizations. 

This week as well, many members of the Harvard community have expressed their opposition to new a federal policy and promise to provide support and resources for those seriously affected by the changes. Harvard President Drew Faust announced her opposition to President Trump’s new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and stated in a college-wide email on September 5th, “This cruel policy recognizes neither justice nor mercy. In the months to come, we will make every effort to have our voice heard, in the halls of Congress and elsewhere, about the need for the protections of DACA to continue. I write today to share information on available resources and, once again, to affirm the University’s strong commitment to supporting individuals who may be affected by these changes.” Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana echoed Faust’s support stating, “I know that many in our community — those directly impacted by President Trump’s actions and those who support this wonderful community of people at Harvard — are now grappling with uncertainty. But know this: Harvard College supports you and as we move forward I want to remind you of what resources are available to you right now.” And in quoting Emma Lazarus, Khurana and other leaders of the Harvard community present a picture of campus that is defined by unity and generosity of spirit. 

The DACA announcement coincided with a previously scheduled debate about immigration policy, hosted by the Harvard Political Union and co-sponsored by Act on a Dream, that was listed as the last of a series of events organized by a coalition of groups surrounding the President’s new policy on DACA. The Harvard College Democrats, Act on a Dream, Fuerza Latina, and the Student Labor Action Movement had come together to organize these events—including a rally, dinner, and canvassing—before Faust’s announcement. They also encouraged people to attend and participate in the HPU’s debate afterward, which was attended by about ninety students. 

Chairman of the Harvard Political Union, Tyler Jenkins ‘19, commented “The Immigration Debate took place on a day of strong tension surrounding undocumented immigrants and their future in the United States.  Despite that tension, both sides were able to come together and present their perspectives.  That debate embodied exactly why the HPU exists and what our society should stand for.  It proves that the state of constructive discourse may be damaged, but hope of repairing it is not lost.”  

Also Tuesday evening was the first IOP Forum of the semester, titled “Are Democracies in Peril?” With several Harvard Kennedy School faculty members in attendance on the stage and in the audience, including Marshall Ganz, Jane Mansbridge, and Nicco Mele, this event also had a full house — despite the competing events happening across campus.  

Perhaps the most contentious of the events this first week is the Harvard College Open Campus Initiative’s (HCOCI) lecture with Dr. Charles Murray, whose scheduled appearance spurred violent protests at Middlebury College in March. The event, which was announced in mid-August, is publicized as “a lecture about economics, American virtue, cultural changes, the working class, the cognitive elite, and the rise of Trump as POTUS,” and it has led to significant student debate on social media, on the event page and elsewhere. In response to this event, students organizing as “Stand Up” sent an email blast to students criticizing the HCOCI’s decision to bring Murray to campus, and inviting students to attend a rally outside of the Murray lecture and an alternative panel of faculty members titled “White Nationalism Unchecked,” sponsored by the Black Students Association and the UC Black Caucus. “I think having Murray on campus is valuable because it encourages students to engage with a scholar with whom they may disagree. Intellectual diversity is so important on college campuses, and the opportunity to increase it should be welcomed.” said Kiera O’Brien ‘20, a member of the HCOCI executive board.  

The flurry of passionate political activity on campus in this week alone may rival that of past semesters. The success and impassioned dialogue present in all of this week’s events seems to indicate that this will be yet another semester in which Harvard undergraduates find themselves observers, advocates, and participants in political activity on campus and far beyond it.  


Emily Hall (emilyhall@college.harvard.edu) and Caroline Cronin (ccronin01@college.harvard.edu) know that Harvard students will continue to remain involved and fight for the causes that matter to them.