Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Review of Relevant Literature and Agenda for Action Research

Literature Review:


Scholars have highlighted the positive impact of student-run publications on students’ self-formation, in the sense that they allow for free expression of perspectives and more diverse interpersonal interactions. My conjecture is that literature is lacking in this regard because student-run publications usually represent undergraduate cultures and views or assessments of them, rather than actively shaping what students think about various aspects of their institutions. Moreover, many articles contextualized student-run papers in the political climate of the college; they stress the heightened importance of the publications as the outlet for free speech, amidst the rise of political correctness on university campuses. Contrary to the wealth of writings on such positive effects of college journalism, there was less substantive literature on how undergraduate publications influence campus culture, student opinion, or administrative decisions. Overall, the topics that are most relevant to my project include: first, many students add to their personal and professional development by writing for undergraduate publications and secondly, student journalism in higher education has become particularly meaningful in today’s college campus environment.

The research article by Nah et al. (2014) is useful in understanding the first topic, arguing that “citizen journalism”contributing to discussion in the public sphere, entering into the conversation of democracyis key to bolstering students’ social capital and citizenship. Defining social capital to include networks, resources, relationships, trust, reciprocity, norms, and other components that are correlated with better life outcomes, the report stresses how citizen journalism increases social capital particularly in regards to the nonprofit and voluntary sector. This is relevant to my experience of becoming much more curious and open about the diverse people, viewpoints, and events that abound at Harvard. Not to equate journalism with community service, but writing about underrepresented or neglected issues or amplifying unheard voices are a service in a different sense. My interviewees often corroborated the importance HPR as a forum for self-expression and highlighting other voices that deserve to be heard.

The statement that student journalism serves as “a civic education tool as well as a community storytelling network” is also applicable to the HPR, given that a writer gleans substantial knowledge about Harvard as an instituion and its policies in the process of honing in on a campus-related topic. The writer creates a “community storytelling network” as well, weaving together perspectives from various stakeholders of an issue; for instance, writing “Food for Thought: Disorderd Eating at Harvard” entailed juxtaposing and aligning views of students who have had eating disorders, general student body, HUDS personnel, and eating disorder clinicians in the Cambridge area. Thus, Nah et al.’s claim that citizen journalism increases “satisfaction, trust, and engagement” is supported by the HPR experience, which leaves people with greater feelings of connectedness to communities around oneself and increased ability to engage in civil conversations with those with opposite opinions. The HPR campus section usually does not cover local news, but regardless, the article makes it easier to see that a writer for the campus section becomes more aware of and in tune with Harvard as a whole.

Whereas Nah et al. was most helpful for thinking about the effect of writing for the HPR does for the individual writer, Daly (2015) sheds insight on the magazine’s place on Harvard campus at large. This piece illuminates the obvious yet often overlooked value of college student publications as the most immediate and organic source of information on campus events. In addition to learning how individual writers have benefited from contributing to HPR, my other important question was the influence of HPR campus articles on campus opinion. Unlike the Crimson, the HPR does not serve as the harbinger of campus news, but there are definitely examples of campus articles--more opinion-based than othersthat elicited important reactions from undergraduates and other Harvard affiliated people. Two articles that come to mind are “Dear Mila,” which urged Mila Kunis to refuse Hasty Pudding Theatrical’s Woman of the Year award in protest of its sexist and misogynic practices, and “Nowhere is a Nice Place for a Rape,” which expressed certain HPR members’ condemnation of Harvard’s mishandling of sexual harrassment allegations in light of the Dominguez scandal. Both students and alums have responded in praise of the call for revamping sexual harassment investigation by the University, and many referred to the Mila Kunis piece when she actually took the stand that the article pushed for.

Of course, Daly’s commentary on the informative value of campus publications would be more fitting for the Crimson. Nonetheless, it led me to further reflect on how the HPR campus section has the unique capacity to shape campus thought, as students are in the best position to write about things happening in our own backyard. Besides, Harvard only appears in mainstream news outlets in instances of huge controversies that make the headlines. Given that undergraduates do not read the HPR on a regular basis, the Daly brought to light the fact that there are campus articles that garner many students’ attention and/or are very much appreciated by undergraduates.

Moving away from the primary objective of the HPR, which is to produce articles, Iftikhar et al. (2016) guided my inquiries with regards to other aspects of the magazine such as weekly section discussions. Iftikhar et al. argues that democracy depends on a robust public sphere, “a virtual space where communication about public issues take place,” in other words the place where people interact, exchange ideas and discuss issues, in order to reach agreement about 'matters of general interest'.” Often used interchangeably with media but actually broader than it, public sphere is critical to formation of public opinion, which is in turn critical to reasonable and/or just decision-making. These explanations could essentially be read as descriptions of intellectually rigorous, sometimes heated, conversations that take place in US, World, Culture, and Campus every Sunday. People often leave those discussions with a much more comprehensive understanding of an issue or a clearer grasp of general undergraduate opinion, which then inform their own position on the topic. In trying to process the usefuless of section discussions, whether or not they get turned into articles, I referred to Iftikhar et. al’s explanation that public spheres allow for the construction of opinion on all relevant information. Furthermore, he points out the two ideal conditions of a public sphere, quality of discourse and quantity of participation. These elements brought me to contemplate reasons why certain discussions were more vigorous or productive than others, as well as to incorporate them in my suggestions for improvement.

Speaking of shortcomings, Hopkins’ (2014) article was another literature that informed my thoughts on the HPR’s areas for change. Hopkins extols the numerous publications at Boston University that give excellent student art and literature their due recognition and publicity, strengthening Nah, et. al’s connection between journalism and social capital. Other than their genre, the literary and art publications that Hopkins discusses differ from magazines like the HPR in that they usually review and publish content that students had originally written for their classes. Such distinction means that contributors are not really participating in the making of a publication but instead, giving their writing a new platform. At the same time, the process of reviewing the submissions is case by case unlike the HPR’s comp, which evaluates a person’s potential or willingness to contribute based on their successful completion of the writing requirements. In other words, the comp process entails the achievement of membership status (as a staff writer) before the review of staff writers’ articles. The policy of publishing articles that make the standards, whether or not the author is a recognized writer of the publication, highlighted the pros and cons of the comp process. On the one hand, such policy stunts the possibility for community or identity-building among people, as they would not have a sense of being “in” a publication or the shared experience of the comp. On the other hand, the absence of prerequisites for submissions emphasized the stress of the comp, the barriers to writing for the HPR, and the potential loss of great talent or content because of that criteria.

Lastly, there were commentaries on student-run publications point out that free speech is under siege in many colleges, making those papers ever more important as outlets of student perspectives. Online articles on freedom of expression in higher education often problematize the shunning of unpopular views on liberal arts campuses. Likewsie, columns like “Alternative Voices on Campus” stresses the need to provide room for alternative political views, in the context of schools where conservatives are a majority in the student body. Harvard is predominantly liberal, but suffers from the same problem of political homogeneity. I used to take comfort in the fact that the HPR lack political diversity because it reflects the political makeup of Harvard, not because it discourages conservative voices by any means. However, the article nudged me to advocate for a more active publicity/ outreach campaign that induce people with “alternative views” to contribute more to the HPR without fearing backlash.

In the end, surveying the literature on college student publications or the media facilitated  my understanding of the role that the HPRmore specifically, the HPR campus sectionplays in students’ personal development and their relationship to the campus community. In addition, I also found guidance in thinking about the section’s ability to influence campus thought. While I identified the main shortcomings of the magazine through my personal experiene and interviews, I was able to engage with those issues more critically through my literature review.

Action Research Outline


I hope to discover differences and similarities between the HPR and BPR in ways that are not obvious from looking at their websites, and use the results of my interview with BPR Chief of Staff to strenthen my suggestions for improving the HPR. In addition to acquiring her perspective on the shortcomings that I identified beforehand and those that emerge during the interview, I want to hear my interviewee’s understanding of the differences between the BPR and the HPR. We will likely have varying interpretation of the differences, which would hint at our differing views of the purpose of our respective political reviews, or undergraduate analytical journals in general. Lastly, it would be ideal for this experience to be mutually beneficial, informing the decisions of a publication that is much younger than the HPR and therefore has likely gone through less changes or predicaments.

  • External Organization: The Brown Political Review

  • Discussion of Methods

    • Data Sources:

      • Audio recording of an interview with BPR’s Associate Chief of Staff, Ashley Chen (the recording itself and quotes/parts of transcribed version)

      • Screenshots of BPR’s website pages, juxtaposed with photos of HPR’s website

    • Location: Kirkland Dining Hall

  • Topics/ practices that I would like to improve in my organization:

    • 1. Making the comp more manageable and clarifying its goals

    • 2. Fostering a sense of community for all members, not just the Masthead

    • 3. Diversifying political opinion in the magazine content

    • 4. Students holding each other accountable - editors and writers, between editors, etc.

    • 5. Creating a system for preserving Institutional memory

  • Conceptual Framework:

    • Community-building, inclusion, and belonging; these ideas lie at the heart of many topics noted above, such as strengthening group identity through social events, easing the burden of the comp, and broadening the political spectrum represented in our articles  

  • Research questions:

    • Organizational structure of the BPR

      • What is the rationale for having some sections/ roles (that the HPR does not have or have in similar forms but under different names)? For example, why is there a “magazine” section when the BPR itself is a magazine? What do the content directors do that your Editorial Board doesn’t already do? Has anyone ever noted the absence of a Campus section (presumably related to the magazine’s goal and scope)?

    • Meeting structure

      • Do you have general/ Masthead meetings regularly? What happens in these meetings?

    • Entry points (based on the website, the biggest differences between the HPR and BPR)  

      • Given there is no election procedure, how does one get into a leadership position in the BPR?

      • (After explaining the comp, in general and HPR-specific) How does one become a staff writer?

      • What are the advantages and downsides of having a direct application process to particular roles, in comparison to holding formal election or requiring the comp? Do you ever run into problems with not having enough content for a cycle, writers bailing or not meeting deadlines, or ensuring high quality of articles?

    • Does the BPR fall under a larger institution or governing body at Brown? What is its funding source? Do such organizations have oversight over BPR’s activities?

    • How do you perceive your role in the BPR and its impact on your self-formation?

    • Based on the differences between the two that emerged until this point

      • Suggestions for improvement in the HPR and the BPR? (Or what would you change about the HPR and the BPR)

      • What are your thoughts on the areas of improvement in the HPR that I have identified, i.e. the comp, community, diversity, student accountability, etc.?

    • Final thoughts?

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