The Harvard iteration of the Occupy protests is ironically, appropriately, and unwillingly now the most exclusive Occupy protest in the country. Guards closed and locked the gates to Harvard Yard in the minutes leading up to the inaugural Occupy Harvard general assembly, meaning that the tent city now built in front of the John Harvard statue will be as exclusive as the university itself. Only people flashing Harvard IDs were allowed in the Yard for the 7 p.m. protest, and Harvard police officers stood sentinel into the night to keep the riffraff out. The enforced exclusivity reads as a pretty ironic asterisk on the latest iteration of the supposedly all-inclusive protest movement, and the students participating in the occupation aren't too happy about it.
"I think it's absurd. Do we really need eight guards per gate?" college junior and veteran Occupy participant Nicandro Iannacci told The Harvard Crimson. "The idea that the only people allowed here to have this conversation are members of the Harvard community, specifically, is wrong. Why not welcome more people in?"
With the acceptance rate having dropped to a record low of 6.2 percent this year, Harvard College is already a problematic place to represent the interests of the 99 Percent. This is not to say that all Harvard students are wealthy sons and daughters of the 1 percent. In fact, Harvard also holds the record for the most financial aid offered to students and has been aggressively promoting socioeconomic diversity on campus since Harvard president Larry Summers introduced the initiative in 2004. But Harvard's generosity wouldn't be possible without the help of the hedge fund-loving Harvard Corporation, who boosted the university's endowment 21 percent in the past year. It now totals $32 billion, making Harvard the second wealthiest nonprofit institution in the world, right behind the Catholic church.
Despite Harvard's ballooning wealth, local unions and students alike have protested the university's treatment of its service workers for years. The first Occupy Harvard protests "was explicitly timed to coincide with Harvard's negotiations with SEIU Local 615, a union for service workers," according to The Boston Globe, as the workers' contract expires Tuesday. The university boasts that the salaries of Harvard custodial workers have risen 36 percent from 2005 to 2011, but the Student Labor Action Movement is still unsatisfied with the gap between Harvard's highest and lowest paid workers. A Harvard student named Rudy told a local blogger at the protests on Wednesday night, "There's no better symbol of privilege and inequality in the United States than Harvard University."
So far, university officials are being coy about whether or not they'll continue to block the public from participating in the occupation, which consisted of about 20 tents on Thursday morning. "Free speech and the free exchange of ideas are hallmarks of the Harvard experience, and important values for the university community to uphold," Harvard said in a statement provided to The Atlantic Wire. "At the same time, it is important that we assure the safety and security of our students, particularly those who live in the Yard."
Update: Harvard sent out this campus-wide memo on Thursday afternoon, explaining that the protest would indeed remain closed to non-Harvard affiliates for the foreseeable future:
Dear Members of the Harvard Community:
Last night, several hundred demonstrators converged on the Harvard campus to express their support for the Occupy movement. The demonstrators consisted of people from within and outside the Harvard community. At the conclusion of the evening, Harvard students erected tents in the Yard, which remained through the night. We are writing now to explain the principles that have informed, and will continue to inform, our response to these activities.
First, we respect and protect the rights of members of the Harvard community to express their views on matters of public debate. These rights, of course, are tempered by the rights of other members of our community to express their views, and for all of us to live, study, and work in an educationally appropriate environment. Last night, people with Harvard identification were permitted access to the Yard and, consistent with our values as an educational institution, had the ability to demonstrate, to speak, and to engage in other expressive conduct.
Second, the University has a fundamental obligation to be attentive to the safety, security, and well-being of its students, faculty, and staff on campus. The events of last night raised safety concerns: the number of demonstrators was large, many of the demonstrators were not from Harvard, and specific behaviors were troubling. For this reason, the University took what we consider to be appropriate security precautions as the situation evolved during the evening.
The decision by students and other members of the Harvard community to erect tents in the Yard will require that the University continue with heightened security measures for the time being. Most important, no one without Harvard identification will be permitted into the Yard. We recognize and apologize for the inconvenience this will cause to students, faculty, staff, and neighbors. Securing access to the Yard is necessary for the safety of the freshmen and others who live and work in the Yard, for the students who will be sleeping outdoors as part of the protest, and for the overall campus.
Executive Vice President