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Harvard students speak out after school rescinds Chelsea Manning's fellowship

Multiple student groups have signed a statement demanding Harvard reinstate Chelsea Manning as a visiting fellow.
Harvard University's Widener Library. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After Harvard’s Kennedy School rescinded its invitation to bring on Chelsea Manning as a visiting fellow at the Institute of Politics, students at the elite university say they feel the school isn’t listening to their wants, so they’re speaking out.

The school’s change of heart stemmed from reactions by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell and others who criticized the move to honor Manning.

Morell resigned from his position as a senior fellow at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs following Manning’s appointment as a visiting fellow. In a letter to the school’s Deal Douglas Elmendorf, Morell wrote that he cannot be part of an organization “that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.”

However, some students think the outrage at Manning was “selective.” Twelve major student organizations have signed a statement over the weekend demanding that the Kennedy School apologize to Manning and reinstate the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst’s fellowship.

Noah Wagner, a 20-year-old senior at Harvard and member of the Trans Task Force and the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement, two groups that signed the statement, said that many students are disappointed in the move to rescind Manning’s fellowship, but ultimately, not surprised.

Wagner noted that it was frustrating “to see Harvard cave to that pressure, but never really prove receptive to student input around things like this.”

“For example, I know many students who feel that Corey Lewandowski and Sean Spicer don’t deserve the distinction of fellow, certainly less so than Chelsea Manning,” Wager said. “I think many people felt that the justification provided for the decision to withdraw [her] fellowship were really sort of hypocritical and inconsistent with other actions.”

The statement signed by the student groups also points to Harvard’s move to make General David Petraeus a senior fellow, even though he was convicted for leaking classified information to his mistress while CIA director.

Manning’s identity as a trans woman, though not commented on in the school’s decision to rescind her invitation, can’t be ignored, students said. Her experiences “as an incarcerated trans woman make her perspective all the more important and her exclusion all the more inexcusable,” the statement from student groups read.

Visiting fellows often lead study groups, give talks and attend other events as a way to benefit the Harvard community, particularly undergraduates.

“If those are the audiences purportedly benefiting from the invitation of fellows, why are students’ desire to hear from certain individuals like Chelsea Manning not worthy of respect?” Wagner wondered.

The Kennedy School said that Manning is still invited to speak at Harvard, but the “honorific” of fellow has been withdrawn.

“But that treatment of someone who’s made tremendous sacrifices in the public’s interest is insulting,” Wagner said. “It’s really marginalizing, if not literally silencing.” 

 
 
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