Power and service at elite institutions gathering


  1. We recognize our position.
    These gatherings will center on where we can go and what we can do in the world as students at elite universities, which is a position that we strive to recognize and deal with as it relates to a number of other positions of power that each of us occupy along various axes of privilege. We consider all of these positions and what kind of consequences and meanings they have for us and for our communities, using those reflections to guide and ground our work.
  2. We are community-oriented.
    We look towards the guidance of our communities both within and especially outside of the university to design actions and solutions that actually work to serve people in a grounded, informed, and effective way. We recognize that student activism must be connected with and on equal footing with the communities that we occupy and often gentrify.
  3. We are inclusive, intersectional, and non-hierarchical.
    We want to design for justice and equity across race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, and all other kinds of backgrounds. In order to stay true to this mission, we will make sure to echo these ideals in our own practice, centering voices that should be heard
  4. We are action driven.
    We want to equip students with ideas and tools to go forward into the world and work towards making the positive impact that they want to. Because of this, we want to know: what can we do concretely for our communities, for the world? We work towards developing action rather than despair.
  5. We are realistic and authentic.
    While we remain committed to a better vision of the world, are realistic about what methods we have for change and our capacity to execute them. We are humble and curious and always thinking about what we can do to live in a way that aligns with our values and politics as a group.

In the wake of recent political events, but also in general, I’ve been feeling very helpless about what methods I have and what effects I can have on making the world a more equitable place for everyone. I often see popular memes in elite university meme groups about people having anti-capitalist or otherwise broadly social justice-oriented politics, but ending up going into consulting or finance despite that. Responses to these memes include pointing out the potential hypocrisy of criticizing students who choose to go into the private sector by people who want to remain in academia (corporate-funded!) or even go into the non-profit sector (beg for corporations’ spending money!). In general, I feel like a lot of people share my sense of being lost about what paths we have going forward from university, especially elite universities like Harvard or MIT where the allure of high-paying finance or tech jobs is almost inescapable.

This event that I want to plan would be like a hackathon, except not called a hackathon so that I can disassociate it from hackathon stereotypes like staying up late and devising solutions to huge societal problems in 24-48 hours. It is held in the new student center on campus and we would make a specific effort to get non-Harvard undergraduates to participate, from a wide variety of backgrounds; organizers would reach out to community leaders and members around the Cambridge and Boston area to attend. The goal of this gathering would be to create an action plan for students who want to get involved in direct community service and be effective to the people and causes they want to serve today. Further iterations of the event could include critical examinations of pathways out of elite institutions led by a panel of people who went down those paths to think about what kind of life trajectories are possible from our starting points.

2 thoughts on “Power and service at elite institutions gathering

  1. Non-hierarchical is a very interesting value. It’s worth looking as some non-hierarchical organizations and events to study how they work in comparison to more traditional and common structures. A common outcome is that an implicit hierarchy emerges. This is not a pure advantage or disadvantage, but it is worth being aware of. The more a group or community operates with consensus, the more time it takes to make decisions, and the more time is taken away from action items. Or, said another way, as is attributed to Oscar Wilde

    “The trouble with socialism is too many evenings.”

    But there’s trouble with hierarchy too, so it’s not a criticism, just a trade off!

    The other thing that comes to mind for me is the question of commitment. It’s great to have a plan, but how many people follow through? I think this would be a really interesting research area. Why do people engage in altruistic activism? Why factors effect how committed and persistent people are? Seems like a really good area for study!

  2. A. I enjoyed your first value. I felt that was very self-aware and demonstrated a desire to be self-critical.

    B. For the action-driven one, I would also recommend thinking about building in ways to also be “reflective”. Move fast and break things doesn’t always work and sometimes leads to big things getting broken. Sometimes the best action is no action!

    c. I actually really like your convening, and wish this could happen! Its hard to find easy ways to apply institutional knowledge to real world problems because it often stays isolated in the institutions it was created in

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