Create a free Diverse: Issues In Higher Education account to continue reading

Harvard Avoids Cops as Protest Goes From Gown to Town

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

Emil GuillermoEmil GuillermoOn Monday of last week, when Harvard Interim President Alan Garber sent out his letter to alumni, I shook my head.

After other universities — most notably MIT and George Washington University were resorting to police violence to end encampments — Garber was standing firm but going a different route. He told students they were free to protest but not free to disrupt the academic life at Harvard, which included graduation. Failure to do so would result in “involuntary leave,” essentially a suspension.

And then Garber left it up to the students.

It was a crossroads moment. When the students did not leave immediately, I feared the worst. Then, the students met and voted this week to end the encampment.

What happened? The students realized they were not terrorists, but students first. Harvard students. Garber got them to understand that. And he did so without giving in to the demand of divestment. In fact, Garber didn’t have to agree to much of anything. He simply cut off the students’ ability to be in Harvard Yard comfortably. No food. No bathrooms. No access to Harvard housing. He made protesting harder than studying for finals.

Garber reportedly did agree to listen and to hear the students out in future talks. Not negotiations, mind you. Just future “talks.” And then, he gave protestors a fig leaf, allowing for suspensions to be dealt with favorably for the students.

Terrorists don’t care about student records. Students do. They have futures with grad school hopes. That’s the message on graduation day. They are the future, right? Garber appealed to who the protestors were on the inside, respecting their political views. And the students took a vote and the majority agreed to leave on their own.

That’s how you avoid the cops.

In reports, Garber’s friends weren’t surprised that his strategy worked, saying that as a long-distance runner, Garber knew that he just had to have the stamina and mindset to endure. He outlasted the encampment. Great. But the protests will continue off-campus and on the streets, where they belong as a matter for the public at large. The campus was the spark to let people know the issue is real.

The Israel-Hamas war is everyone’s problem. Not just higher ed’s. The next phase of protest now requires all of us to take a stand or be complicit in what’s happening in Gaza.

No longer isolated, the protests now go from gown to town. The encampments may have been just the incubator.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. A former adjunct professor, he writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics
American sport has always served as a platform for resistance and has been measured and critiqued by how it responds in critical moments of racial and social crises.
Read More
A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics