Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

College Journalism: The Key to my Personal Development

My basic profile at Harvard:
Class of 2019
A.B. Candidate in History
Kirkland House

Timeline of my journey:
Comper (September- December 2015)
Staff writer (January 2016- November 2017)
Senior Campus Editor (elections on Nov. 11th, 2017- December 2017-present)

Stage 1: Comper

Coming to college, I wanted to get involved in forms of writing outside academia, so I contemplated comping various student-run publications. The legitimacy of the HPR--shown in the aesthetics and layout of its print copies, and the intellectually rigorous environment at meetings--was a compelling reason to choose the magazine. That said, I unnecessarily stressed myself out over writing the perfect article from the first draft, largely because I hadn’t had extensive practice in data-driven, analytical articles that the HPR stand for. Moreover, I found the weekly discussions enriching yet at the same time daunting, doubting that I could meaningfully contribute to conversations about central political and social issues.

It amazes me to reflect on this stage of my relationship with the HPR, which was characterized by constant fear that my writing and thinking abilities would not meet the high bar of the magazine. Much of this self-doubt was self-imposed, and partly influenced by my general sense of being mediocre at Harvard (aka imposter syndrome) during my freshman fall. That said, I think I was rightfully overwhelmed by the pressure to produce five well-researched, interview-backed articles, in addition to writing essays for classes and partaking in other extracurricular activities. One-on-one meetings with my editor and his feedback were hugely helpful, and I met new people through section meetings. However, the relatively big size of the publication and the disconnect between Masthead and non-Masthead members, not to mention compers, often made me feel alone in my struggles to adapt to the HPR style of writing and meet my deadlines. If I had known other compers had struggled to finish their comp requirements like I did, or had known how approachable Masthead members are, I would have felt less anxious about my responsibilities.

Articles I wrote as a comper:

My two cents on the comp process:

I did find the comp useful in learning how to identify relevant interviewees, conduct interviews and incorporate them into my article, and write in a concise, analytical style. I become more familiar with such repertoire of tasks involved in writing for the HPR, practicing a kind of journalism that I would not have otherwise encountered in my humanities/ social sciences classes. At the same time, the comp is not absolutely necessary to learn these skills, especially not four to five articles. Writing two or even just one article that includes the essential components of an HPR article would serve as sufficient training, with guidance from or collaboration with the editor.

The comp might have even been counterproductive in terms of solidifying students’ commitment to the HPR, because some people end up treating the comp as the big hurrah and feel less inclined to contribute extensively after completing it. Essentially, writing as a comper is no different from contributing a staff writer, but having to fulfill comp requirements makes the process of writing feel like a chore, often leading to burnout. The last thing that the comp should do is for people to have negative associations with writing for the HPR; instead, it should give people a preview of the exciting, although at times stressful, project that they would be regularly taking on as staff writers. Thus, I commend the HPR’s move towards reducing the number of comp requirements from five to four articles, providing greater support for compers, trying to make its events more inclusive of them.

Stage 2: Staff Writer

Without the burden of the comp and flexibility in when I contribute, I felt more enthusiastic about pursuing a topic of interest or importance. In fact, as a staff writer I came to embrace my role as less of a job or responsibility than a source of agency, having the platform to provide interpretations on any subject of my choice and to showcase high-quality writing. This is the period during which I also discovered my niche in the Campus section; I realized I was drawn to the US and World Sections primarily due to their popularity and less because I enjoyed the discussions. I also found therapeutic value in talking about issues on campus--oftentimes key events or controversies as a lense to larger institutional or cultural characteristics of Harvard--and listening to diverse perspectives from other Harvard students.

Articles I wrote as a staff writer: 

Writing “Food for Thought: Disordered Eating at Harvard” allowed me to not only raise awareness of a critical issue that acutely affects the college population but also explore a topic that is personally meaningful to me. This piece captures the effect that writing for the HPR has had on my experience at Harvard; I came more connected to experiences of diverse people on campus and contributed to increasing bringing underrepresented issues or events to the limelight. Moreover, I could reflect on my involvement with other organizations, like SHARC and Delta Gamma, through writing for the HPR. The HPR provided a place for me to unpack my stance on university policies or decisions affecting the groups, for instance sanctions on USGSOs. 

Stage 3:  Senior Campus Editor, the 50th Masthead

My primary role has shifted from writing for the magazine to facilitating meetings and supporting writers, as they move from brainstorming and outlining to multiple rounds of editing. I am also responsible to putting up articles on wordpress for online publication. I now see myself as helping people tap into their creativity, investigate key questions through interviews and research, and in the case of some compers and novice writers, encourage them that they can write something original and meaningful. Another responsibility is to come up with a discussion topic for weekly campus section meetings, so I have been seeking out and consuming stories from other campus publications and mainstream media much more actively. 

Being part of Masthead has broadened my perspective of the various efforts that fuel a successful student-run publication. Belonging to a team of people dedicated to the magazine has strengthened my journalistic aspirations; I went from being a freshman who was primarily (and in some ways, only) interested in writing to a junior who is eager to partake in diverse initiatives of the HPR and the various roles within it. 

Videos of Campus-Culture joint meeting (the four videos below)

Topic: Combatting the systemic problem of lacking diversity in higher ed leadership roles, as illuminated by some concerns about Bacow's appointment; positive discrimination (explicitly using non-whiteness as a mandatory employment criteria) as a possible solution; ways to avoid tokenizing people

We discussed the arguments for and against the most radical remedy to critiques against hiring someone with a cis-gender white male profile: pressuring him to step down and hire a more "diverse" person instead, as defined by not just a commitment to promoting diversity but embodying underrepresented and/or repressed identities. The potentially problems with such a "positive discrimination employment," especially shocking if it were to be led by Bacow himself, hinted at the larger predicament of advancing diversity at the expense of tokenizing individuals or compromising the rights of certain individuals. Another critical aspect we talked about was the seeming lack of consideration for student opinion in selecting a president, although there is little reliable information about the influence of student opinion due to opacity around the decision-making.

Some recordings of Interviews I conducted for writing the aforementioned articles:


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