Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Headlines, News, Events

Monday, Harvard saw an unfounded bomb threat from a student who tried to postpone an exam in American Government. Four buildings in Harvard Yard were evacuated and that day's morning exams were, indeed, postponed. Students were given options to take them later that afternoon, in February, or not at all, either electing to be graded on the remainder of the course's assigned work, or on a Pass/Fail scale. But Eldo Kim '16 confessed to sending the emails, and will appear in US District Court tomorrow.


content warning: domestic terrorism, this section only.

A headline like "Harvard Student, 20, Arrested in Connection with Campus Bomb Scare" (from a local paper) feels strangely alien. Of course, I've seen several "XYZ College senior charged with ABC" headlines, and it always felt distant, not like it was real life. In the Harvard Crimson, I'm used to seeing headlines like "Early Action Acceptance Rises to 21 Percent" and "Donning Hats, Capes, and Little Else, Harvard Students Celebrate Primal Scream".

This is, of course, not the first time Harvard has had negative press recently. But stories like "Cheating Scandal at Harvard" and "Harvard Grade Inflation Rampant" and even "Harvard Stripped of Quiz Bowl Titles" seem perversely Harvardian in their accusations: "Cheating Scandal at Harvard -- Even the Best Do It!"; "Harvard Grade Inflation Rampant -- Getting in is the Hardest Part, After All!", and so on. After all, I've complained to more than one friend that "this wouldn't be news if we weren't Harvard".

But "Student Arrested for Bomb Threat"? Today, the school I love isn't special; it's just another place full of teenagers and young twenty-somethings, where one student made an awful mistake. If it were anyone else's school, I'd think badly (or at best, sympathetically) of them for a few minutes while I read the news article, and then promptly forget that they exist.

Maybe I should stop doing that. If this place -- where the dining halls are still decked out in festive glory, the snow looks beautiful on Eliot's courtyard, and the cashier at Noch's still teases students with his deadpan humor -- can just be another news article, maybe I should start thinking of other college campuses as being full of real people. Maybe I should think of Newtown, CT as the quiet hometown of one of my friends, with it's own small-town charm (likely not all that different from my own hometown), and not as "that place where Sandy Hook happened". And maybe "Sandy Hook" isn't an event, any more than "Thunder Hill" is.


edit: a commenter points out that other Crimson articles refer to "Eldo Kim '16", and that in other places, the paper does refer to students in the form "Harvard junior John Smith". So my outrage is, I believe, misdirected. This is like the second time I've made a mountain out of a molehill regarding a Crimson article, so I'll lay off them for a bit. I'll leave the following section up, though, because I think it's maybe important to think about, in the abstract.

The Crimson, in it's reporting, drops the standard " '16 " after identifying "Eldo Kim" in its headline article. They even went so far as to replace it with another identifying number -- his age. (The sentence reads: "Harvard College sophomore and Quincy House resident Eldo Kim, 20, has been...") Now, either:

  • The Crimson is subtly implying that Mr. Kim is no longer a member of the class of '16. Sure, he's recently been charged with some serious crimes. But Eldo was formally admitted to the class of '16 almost exactly two years ago, and hasn't been removed from it since, to my knowledge. Could we all just avoid jumping to conclusions for a few weeks?

  • Alternatively, they simply want to ignore the fact that he's our classmate. And while I agree with Harry Lewis that the Crimson, in the interest of being a "real newspaper", should prioritize journalism over protecting students, but that's needlessly petty. The " '16 " has always been a slightly silly way for the university to smugly claim students it's proud of. But it seems wrong, somehow, to attach it only to 'good people'.

After all, as today's HPR op-ed opines, we've all panicked and hurt people in our quest for 'Harvard excellence'. Dehumanizing (or deharvardizing) the one of us who made a worse decision than most stands in the way of understanding a deeper 'why' -- and with it, 'how do we fix the things that led to this?'


But as for the event itself, one of my Ballroom teammates addressed it very, very well:

"No, I'm sorry for the kid. I'm sorry that he was under such unbelievable stress. But I'm also sorry that he couldn't see how little this was to worry about, that he couldn't see that he would make hundreds of HUPD, Cambridge Police, and FBI officers search for explosives, that he would make so many parents all around the world worried about their kids, that he would make administration go through such a hassle trying to reschedule exams.

"None of this matters obviously. It's ok, they rescheduled a few exams. It's ok, we just called our parents and told them we're fine. It's ok for the police to search for non-existent explosives, it's their job.

"Is it ok that he just ruined his life though? I know everything has consequences and they should. But I hope he gets another chance."

It's not my place to speculate on how Mr. Kim's day in court will go, but of course the Harvard Crimson has already jumped on the opportunity to do so: "Eldo Kim Will Face Uphill Battle in Court, Dershowitz, Experts Say", which quotes a Harvard Law School professor as saying: "I don't think any lawyer in the world could save him at this point."

But, for what it's worth, I hope that the District Court doesn't send him to jail. This is my campus, and while I wasn't in one of the buildings evacuated, my friends were, and I'm just not out for Eldo's blood. I know what it's like to feel like there's no light left in the world because this final exam is hopeless. I know what it's like to feign sickness and tell white lies to secure a two-day extension on an English paper. And I know that I'm under far less competitive stress than the median student here.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes our mistakes have consequences. But at the end of the day, no one was hurt -- some people were shaken, to be sure, but no one hurt -- and everyone knows that he'll never even think about doing this again. So let him off with whatever community service you feel is necessary to beat the lesson into him even deeper, let Harvard dismiss him for a year or so, and let him return, a wiser person from the experience.

Yes, actions have consequences, but I'll be floored if the worst thing that a Gov concentrator from Harvard's class of '16 ever does is disrupt one morning of exam period. And out in the real-world government (with a small 'g'), when you mess up, real people actually get hurt. But of course, we don't punish those adults for their mistakes...

The maximum sentence he faces is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine -- approximately the duration and cost of a Harvard degree in Government. And seriously, who deserves that kind of punishment?