Op Eds

Put an End to Classroom Theatrics


You’re on fire. The grins of approval from your classmates. Snaps echoing through the lecture hall. Maybe even a nod from your professor. It's the academic validation and social reward that every Harvard student craves. Maybe it’s what compels you to ask a question in class, one for which you already know the answer, or make a comment with the ulterior motive of brandishing your wokeness.

By no means am I saying that all or even the majority of classroom contributions are inherently theatrical. All of us have comments to make that can improve our collective academic experience. It is also important to acknowledge that it takes courage to speak up in a lecture hall or to disagree with someone in a position of power. In fact, it should be the bare minimum to call out racism, homophobia, classism, and any other form of discrimination in our classrooms.

The issue arises, however, when we contribute to a self-righteous, narcissistic culture of truisms, and ultimately lower the bar for our academic discussions.

Eloquent analyses of social groups and oppression become boxes to check in our classroom monologues of glory. Buzzwords and SAT vocabulary shine, but our commitment to critically thinking about social problems dwindles and our dedication to advertising our moral superiority grows. Sharing an intellectual analysis of Marx’s Das Kapital – making sure everyone in your class knows you read theory – becomes more important than meaningfully engaging in classroom discussions or listening and reflecting on the lived experiences of our classmates.


Beyond being annoying, performative acts in the classroom weaponize social justice, redirecting the focus on rewarding individuals for their social awareness rather than dismantling oppressive structures. Social justice has become a race to prove our self-righteousness, and superfluous attempts at proving ourselves as anti-racists have ultimately co-opted the spaces where critical discussions centering rigorous self-questioning and comprehensive debate occur. This culture of conversation rewards performance over nuance and delivery over content, with some of the most insidious forms of hypocrisy and tokenism sacrificing meaningful intellectual growth.

We are all left with this strange and disingenuous feeling that our ideological truisms should be advertised, but even more, that social justice is just a glossary of jargon to be used as pawns in a verbal battle of intellectual justice, one you win by using the biggest words and speaking with the most conviction.

Worst of all, this culture encourages students to limit their activism to the classroom, and in the classroom only. I mean, what’s in it for us to think that climate change is real if our classmates can’t pat us on the back for it, right?

We end up thinking that we don’t have to commit ourselves to social justice because our work in the classroom is enough validation to be labeled a patron for equity and inclusion. In the ivory towers of our Harvard classes, we get to put on the temporary activist hat, appointing ourselves as spokespeople for marginalized groups to which we may not necessarily belong, but ultimately overlooking the victims who feel the brunt of injustice far beyond any classroom.

It’s time for a mindset shift. In class, we should not see ourselves as performers on a stage or soldiers in an intellectual battle. As gratifying as we feel it is to speak up in class, we should feel the same zeal for listening and introspection, appreciation for the endless potential that classrooms give us to look inward and expand our own ideological spectrums.

This semester, let's reinterpret our classrooms as mediums for critical self-reflection and vulnerability, opportunities to interrogate our preconceived biases and educate ourselves to be more mindful learners. After all, in a world of finger-pointing and constant self-defense, classrooms are one of the safest places for us to swallow our pride and look inwards, and what may momentarily feel like defeat in a heated class discussion can later blossom into a pivotal moment for growth.

So, the next time you raise your hand in your lecture, your section, or your seminar, ask yourself if you’re truly interested in contributing to the discussion or if it’s the attention and the approval you crave. Because for marginalized folks and each of us who experiences life beyond the classroom, social justice means more than just outwardly flexing your intellectual muscles or name-dropping obscure social theories – it involves real world issues with real-world implications.

Starting from 2023, let’s choose active listening and introspection over mindless interjections, or vulnerability over stubborn dogmatism. It’s time that we raise the bar for what constitutes a meaningful classroom contribution, for ourselves and for others.

Rhys Moon ‘26, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Matthews Hall.