At Harvard University, less than 10% of the undergraduate student body identifies as black. Given the grueling academic gauntlet applicants must run in order to secure admission to the prestigious Ivy League school, one might assume that Harvard’s students maintain some level of mutual respect for one another, regardless of race, religion, or gender. And for the most part, they do. However, as Tovia Smith noted in a recent NPR story, “W.E.B. Du Bois felt that as a student in the late 1800s, he said he was in Harvard but not of Harvard. More than a century later, many black Harvard students say they still feel the same way.”
“I, Too, Am Harvard” is a multimedia project aimed at giving a voice to black students on the illustrious campus. The #itooamharvard photo campaign on Tumblr was inspired by a play of the same name which was based on interviews with members of Harvard’s black community. Students are photographed holding signs with confessional messages that speak to the prejudices and stereotypes they feel they have been subjected to, as well as their hopes for equality and understanding in the future. Some of the messages include such sentiments as:
“'I don’t see color.’ Does that mean you don’t see me?”
“My self-esteem is not contingent upon me fitting your definition of beauty.”
“Please don’t pet my hair. I am not an animal.”
Donald Pfister, interim dean of Harvard College, responded to the campaign in a recent message to the undergraduate student body.
“We all have hopes, and dreams, and goals, and it is important that we support each other in achieving them,” said Pfister. “Harvard is a place where the community supports and fosters conversations, ideas, and creativity. Harvard is also about inclusion. This photo campaign . . . is a great example of students speaking about how we can become a stronger community. ‘I, Too, Am Harvard’ makes clear that our conversation about community does not and should not stop.”
“I, Too, Am Harvard” has gone viral, with the Tumblr account drawing tens of thousands of views and dozens of media outlets picking up the story, from BuzzFeed to The Boston Globe. The project’s effects have rippled across the country, reportedly inspiring students at schools such as UCLA and the University of Michigan to raise their voices in similar ways. The movement has even gained enough momentum to send it sailing across the pond, where minority and international students in England have launched an “I, Too, Am Oxford” campaign.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The world may never be a perfect place, but students participating in initiatives such as “I, Too, Am Harvard” are certainly taking an important step toward making it a better place by expressing what matters to them in creative, constructive, and thought-provoking ways.
What do you think of the "I, Too, Am Harvard" project? Would you want to launch or participate in a similar initiative at your school?