29th Feb 2016, Cambridge, MA
Perhaps my biggest frustration with Harvard is its white-ness. That sounds like a weird, even bigoted thing to say about an institution that boasts such a diverse, international student body and faculty, but I’ve felt its whiteness everywhere. From the fact that I know of only two Iraqi students across the graduate schools to the fact my beloved home department is reticent about using the word ‘Palestine’ on its website when it has no problem using ‘Israel’, thus contributing to the Palestinian erasure taking place across American (and increasingly British) universities.
And with the white-ness I have found a lack of critical or radical thought. At Warwick, my ‘Critical Security Studies’ class taught me how to use post-structuralism and discourse analysis to break down the power dynamics inherent in the micro and macro political spheres. But at Harvard, I felt these tools getting rusty. I have found myself sitting in classes frustrated, unable to articulate why in a coherent or critical way. On my very first day at Harvard, I was told that the Palestine-Israel conflict was not taught in a human rights class at the Kennedy School because it was too ‘explosive’. On Thursday, I was told by a student that the Middle East was ‘tribal’. And despite being called ‘outspoken’ on several occasions, I have found myself asking the hard questions in my head and seldom in reality. I have felt marginalised, even oppressed at times. I have often succumbed to the pressure of being ‘diplomatic’ or ‘politically sensitive’ or whatever bullshit terms we use to disguise what I believe is blatant normalisation of things that are wrong. Even my poetry has felt sanitised and it has taken 10 days for me to decide to publish this. Increasingly, despite smuggling contraband incense into my dorms and having two Palestinian flags in my room, I have felt disconnected from my roots and my people. That upsets me.