Why is misconduct on campus at Harvard so shocking?

Assumptions of our moral superiority are false

Another troubling and unsurprising act of problematic group behavior has caused another moral exercising of Harvard’s institutional power.

Harvard Athletics Director Robert Scalise decided to suspend the men’s soccer team’s 2016 season after an Office of General Counsel review found that the team’s 2012 “scouting report” has been replicated in years since over the team’s email lists. Each “scouting report” assigned a numerical ranking and hypothetical sex position to women’s soccer recruit from each year.

There is no point in giving some ethical analysis on Harvard’s decision or the team’s transgressions. The team is responsible for what circulates on its own listserv, and the university has the power to ensure such responsibility.

Instead, it’s important to shed light on the context of the team’s behavior in a broader phenomenon on this campus and campuses like it. This is a phenomenon of unfortunately mundane, negative behaviors and mentalities on these campuses that are unjustly provocative not because of the objective severity of the offenses, but because of an assumed enlightenment and moral superiority of the students on these campuses.

Every student who steps foot onto a college campus brings with them a certain set of views and behaviors. This should not be surprising, as no person grows up in a vacuum. We are all products of our environments, and our environments have left certain imprints on us that dictate to a certain extent how we navigate this campus.

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It’s the reason why a liberal student may find the institution’s policies and faculty overwhelming favorable while a conservative student may find those same things repulsive.

It’s the reason why some students could understand where the institution was coming from when they released those placemats last year, while others led ardent counter-crusades against them.

It’s the reason why it may be incomprehensible to some students how some of their peers can eat Russell House many nights of the week while it’s nothing short of ordinary for those same peers who do frequent the restaurant.

If we can understand and accept these particular realities and their consequences on campus (i.e. the segmentation of the student body on many lines), why is it so difficult for us to extend them to what we’re seeing in terms of microagression and misconduct on campus?

Why are we shocked to think that, 1) there are members of our community who have come from communities and circles where such objectification is commonplace and widely excepted, and that, 2) they would engage in the same behaviors while here?

I’ve proposed an answer for the first part of that question. But what would justifiably lead us to believe that one’s presence on this campus was ever continent on one’s morality? Is that something that is actively investigated in the admissions process? Is such an investigation even possible? Let’s be entirely honest and admit the answer to both questions is “no.”

So, we better start acknowledging the inevitable hodgepodge of morals and behaviors on our campuses and stop assuming we are somehow miraculously immune to those same morals and behaviors.

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Imagine if the university thought they would neither attract nor admit future sexual offenders? Better yet, imagine if students thought that? There would be no OSAPR, because no one would feel such an office necessary. The vigilance that rightfully prompts a student to never intentionally leave their drink unattended or go yards beyond their limits at a Mt. Auburn Street party would not be present on this campus because no one would deem it necessary.

However, the same threats that make the aforementioned scenarios the opposite of reality would still exist, and I think it’s safe to say that the situation on campus would be much, much worse.

So why does it appear that students and administrators feel the campus impervious to people who aggress in less physically harmful ways? President Faust says the men’s soccer team’s actions “have no place at Harvard, and run counter to the mutual respect that is a core value of our community.” So, why are they present? It is an assumption (maybe even a hope) that they wouldn’t be. And this assumption serves a potential danger to the community when it rationalizes inactivity towards preventing such behaviors.

It reminds me of the assumption that the American people are too progressive, too enlightened to align themselves with Trump. We all know who our president-elect now is. There is no more time to wallow in optimism, whether the elitist one that has caused such shock around unfortunately commonplace occurrences on our campus, or any more general one that will keeps us inert in the face of danger.

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