The Myth of Harvard’s Global Community

In the wake of international crisis, the lack of support for international students on this campus is unfathomable

I’m sitting in class, fixated on the robotic exercise of hammering away at my keyboard, when a notification pops up on the right side of the screen. It’s New York Times reporting on breaking news of a terrorist attack. My eye catches the name of my country, and, in that moment, I know I’m a click away from swallowing news of the deaths of many of my countrymen. For once, I understand why it’s called “breaking” news, because it does break me. The lecture proceeds without interruption while my distress proceeds to consume me. I half expect someone to raise their hand and announce to the room that a city was just severely wounded. After all, it is a government class. I hold myself in contempt as to why I couldn’t be that person. But, for once, I don’t want to be the only person who cares about this. I don’t want to be the bearer of news from that part of the world; the sole representative of news that is blatantly trivialized simply because it isn't part of the Western consciousness.

Still, walking out of class, I expect to hear murmurs about the devastating news, but I hear no concerns voiced. Surely, a room full of government concentrators have their ways of staying updated. I could not have been the only person who just "happened" to receive a notification, and also "happened" to be Pakistani. Naturally, in the moment, I am enraged and disoriented. Suddenly, Harvard does not, at all, seem the global community it claims itself to be.

The death toll in Pakistan rises every hour, but no one I encounter throughout my day at Harvard seems concerned. Of course, I consider the possibility that they are unaware of what is happening across the world, so I vehemently check, and double check, to see if the popular tabloids are reporting on what just happened in Quetta. Once again, I confirm that they are. Why, then, was everyone unfazed? The silence around me is disarming: I no longer know how to act or feel. I recall similar occurrences that involved other countries. I recall, too, the outrage at Harvard. I realize that none of it will be accorded to my people that, too, have been ravaged in a war against terrorism. I concede that their sacrifices will never provoke global outrage.

This is what all of Harvard ignored: on October 24, a terrorist attack on a police academy in Quetta, Pakistan, claimed at least 60 lives and left hundreds wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. But, suddenly, ISIS was no longer relevant. No longer was it an international threat with growing influence.

I repeatedly share news on social media in the hopes that my peers will see it. I recurrently check my newsfeed to see if any member of the Harvard community has posted anything related. Nothing. I realize, later, that people just don’t care; when I try bringing it up at dinner, when I try mentioning it in section, no one wants to know or care about what happened on soil that is not theirs. I suppose Paris was closer to home. Maybe our foreign policy just isn’t that important. I check my mail frantically, on the lookout for something that offers support for those looking for it. I remember Hurricane Matthew prompted an email on the house list voicing concern for those who may have family and friends in the affected area. I anticipate a similar email but it never comes. Where’s the support for us? Why weren’t Pakistani students at Harvard asked if they were doing okay or if they had families in the area?


I feel isolated in my grief and concern. I think of my fellow internationals, who must be going through similar emotions. We offer each other words of comfort and marvel at the collective apathy of those that make up our institution. That the matter never made it into people’s conversations may have to do with an overarching trend of marginalizing the sufferings of the “third world” that we like to pretend barely exists. But there are students here that belong to these places who need support. Must I explain that these were real people with real families—even though they didn’t have French accents—that suffered at the hands of terrorism? Where is your War on Terror now? With the emphasis on political correctness here, I’m shocked that our community can be so ignorant and apathetic at times like these. Our selectiveness in embracing international issues only when the right countries are involved is disappointing.

If the College admits students from these parts of the world, it must also offer us support in trying times. International students are more than a statistic in your diversity report. We are not tokens that are to be cashed in for accessing different cultures. We are not here to teach Americans about our world; we, too, are here to learn. We are people from real places with real families. We, too, feel a sense of patriotism for our countries. When more than 60 people die back home, we should not feel alone in our grief and concern. And, definitely not at a place like Harvard that prides itself on being a global, informed institution.

I sincerely believe the Harvard community can do better. At the Fall Dinner hosted by the South Asian groups at Harvard, we observed a moment of silence for Quetta’s monumental loss. For the first time in two weeks, my feeling of disenfranchisement from Harvard thaws a bit. This small gesture didn’t do anything except acknowledge that there were, in fact, lives lost and families torn asunder. But, it is these small acts of solidarity that make our community strong.

If we take pride in our education of global leaders, we need to ask what “global” means for our community. Do we only have room to mourn for a global community that has veto power in the Security Council? I’m certain there are other severely bruised nations, with representatives on campus, that we can and must make space for. We didn’t afford Quetta that courtesy, and let’s hope there isn’t a next time, but if there is, I hope we can be a better global community for the entire world, from places remote to powerful.

Zuneera Shah ’19 lives in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.


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