As voters across the United States traipsed to the polls and awaited the election results, so did students, faculty, and staff members at Harvard, the University that helped to educate both major presidential candidates. Nearby polling places were busy. Local pubs hosted parties to watch the results roll in. Harvard’s Schools organized viewing sessions and small discussion panels. Undergraduates filled their House TV lounges to see the vote tallies rise. Across Harvard Yard and into Allston, Harvard mirrored the nation, transfixed by a political process full of sound and fury and, this night, signaling much.
Political diversity at HLS
Harvard Law School’s new lounge and pub in the Wasserstein Hall, Caspersen Student Center, Clinical Wing Building, was the gathering place for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, who stood side by side to follow the results on TV during a party organized by the School’s Dean of Students Office.
“We are really here to celebrate the electoral process and democracy. … The goal was to have students from all ranges of the political spectrum,” said Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove.
Student Karl Sigwarth, sporting a T-shirt from the HLS Republicans, praised the Law School as a place where competing viewpoints are embraced. “You are able to have an exchange of ideas that, while it’s animated sometimes, at the end of the day it’s still very respectful and you still realize that you are learning from each other, and that’s great.”
Aside from the presidential election, there was strong interest in the Senate race between Elizabeth Warren, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law, and incumbent Scott Brown. A large cheer erupted when Warren was declared the winner.
“A lot of people that come to Harvard have a passion for public service and I think that is true of Elizabeth Warren,” said second-year HLS student George Fleming.
Asked how long the party would last, Cosgrove responded with a laugh. “I did this job in 2000 and I said, ‘the party will go until the winner is announced’ and I learned my lesson.” This year she said she sent out an email stating the festivities would last until a winner is declared, or “at whatever reasonable time we determine is appropriate.”
— Colleen Walsh
At the Business School, perspective
As East Coast polls closed and early projections trickled in, Harvard Business School (HBS) students gathered at the Spangler Grille for a chili buffet and viewing party.
The talk of the campus? A survey in the Harbus student newspaper, which found that 65 percent of HBS students support Barack Obama. But roughly a quarter of the respondents were international students who cannot vote, and the survey’s sample was not taken at random. Still, major news outlets seized on the story.
“If you asked the same individuals if they supported [Mitt] Romney’s economic policies, I think you’d see a very different result,” said Cliff Adams, co-president of the HBS Republican Club, which had staked out a table in their candidate’s former stomping grounds. “But I think people are generally more passionate about social issues.”
Romney’s time at HBS — he earned his M.B.A., along with his J.D. from Harvard Law School, in 1975 — clearly aided his ballyhooed success in the business world. Did students see traces of HBS culture in the political style of America’s would-be CEO?
“I think one thing HBS teaches you is that nobody is ever 100 percent right, and nobody is ever 100 percent wrong,” said Adams, a native Texan and veteran of the war in Afghanistan (who, despite his résumé, says he harbors no political ambitions of his own). “I suspect Mitt Romney learned a lot here about how to be pragmatic.”
Crashing the Democratic party
In the pop culture imagination, the idea of a Harvard Business School Democrat registers somewhere between oxymoron and unicorn: It either contradicts itself or flat out doesn’t exist.
But the HBS Democrats Club was out in full force at Whitney’s bar in Harvard Square Tuesday night, cheering and toasting as the television news programs called more and more states for Barack Obama. A collection of engineers, consultants, techies, and other strangers to Wall Street, they said they don’t feel stigmatized by a One-Percenter label.
“I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of today’s HBS,” said the club’s president, Prem Ramaswami, who has found both students and faculty to be politically diverse. In fact, the HBS Democrats outnumber the HBS Republicans — perhaps because the former club has no membership fee. “You could say we don’t tax our members,” Ramaswami said, getting in one last little dig at his Republican friends.
— Katie Koch
Harvard alumni gathered at Tommy Doyle’s pub in the heart of Harvard Square to reconnect with old classmates and watch as the election results came in.
“What stands out, on the surface, is the vast amount of money spent,” said Neal Karasic ’93 of Brighton. “But I think most of us here tonight have been reading Nate Silver’s New York Times blog, fivethirtyeight, and so we know — or we think we know — what’s going to happen. We’re just here to verify his results.”
“I do think Obama’s been a terrific foreign policy president,” said Liam Day ’94 of Boston. “I do have some quibbles with what he’s done domestically … and I have a certain amount of respect for what Mitt Romney has done.”
Michael Lewis ’93, who is chairing the 20th reunion for his class, said that as an independent-minded Democrat, he’s not averse to voting Republican. “I feel like Mitt had to move to the right in the Republican primaries, and then moved back to center for the presidential debates,” Lewis said. “But everything Obama does conveys that he’s thoughtful and deliberate, and that’s really the crux of my support for him.”
While students and alumni gathered around screens showing the latest election results, others members of the Harvard community were on the job.
Roxana Lopez, a custodian at Harvard Campus Services, was focused on her second day of work at Harvard. (A native of El Salvador, Lopez has lived in Boston for 17 years, since she was 20.) She was also thinking about her 3-year-old son, Alex.
“It’s so important to vote, for the future of this country,” said Lopez, who is not yet a naturalized citizen. “I feel it’s something that you have to do. When I meet people who don’t want to vote or don’t know what to decide, I tell them it’s an important responsibility — it’s about their kids and what kind of future we’re going to provide to them, what kinds of opportunities they will have.”
— Jennifer Doody
The Harvard Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum was packed Tuesday night, with red, white, and blue balloons and banners on the walls and buffet tables on each floor to keep the crowd refreshed.
Small groups trooped to the podium on a low riser at the front of the room to get their pictures taken with cardboard cutouts of Obama and Romney, while CNN’s election coverage blared on the screen above.
The crowd appeared clearly partisan, with cheers greeting positive news for Obama. The biggest cheer of all went up when an early return showed Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren leading Sen. Scott Brown.
At just after 9 p.m., David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama and a member of the Institute of Politics Advisory Committee, called into the Forum, greeting the crowd and saying the Obama campaign was encouraged by early results.
Erin Flynn, a senior from Cabot House, questioned the propriety of spending so much money on an election in tough economic times, but was impressed by the level of energy the campaign generated.
“I’m really encouraged. People seem to feel something is at stake in this election,” Flynn said. “People feel something special.”
— Alvin Powell
Vote to remember
Tianhao He, a sophomore from Mather House, cast his first vote in a presidential election on Tuesday at Quincy House, saying he felt he was participating in a process greater than himself.
“It was great,” he said. “It’s really a day when you appreciate the democratic process . . . very transcendent in a way. . . . You feel the impact you can make.”
He said he appreciated being able to help organize events about campaign issues through his involvement with the Institute of Politics.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to engage in a dialogue that goes beyond the political rhetoric,” He said.
Abdul Ly, a senior government concentrator from Leverett House, also voted for the first time on Tuesday. He said the communications from the IOP helped him understand the voting process before going into the booth. As for the campaign itself, Ly said he was a bit nervous for the prospects for Obama.
“I’m a little nervous that my candidate won’t win,” Ly said.
Students began gathering in the Leverett House Junior Common Room just after the first polls began closing at 7 p.m. Manny Mendoza, a junior chemistry concentrator, and Joseph McGing, a senior economy concentrator, were first in, with Mendoza admitting to being a little worried about Obama’s chances, and McGing excited to see the results unfold.
“It’s going to be really tight,” McGing said.
Kai Fei, a statistics concentrator who voted by absentee ballot in his native Minnesota, said he had been reading about how polls are structured and was interested in seeing how the results match with poll and pundit predictions.
Fei and fellow Leverett House residents Matt Megan and Graham Wyatt all called the economy the most important issue in the campaign, even if the president’s role in its performance is overstated.
“I think whenever the economy does well, the president gets too much credit, and when it does poorly, he gets too much blame,” Wyatt said.
— Alvin Powell
Watching the results, aiding a cause
Long queues for food and drink replaced election lines at the Graduate School of Education’s Gutman Library café. Students crammed in to watch the returns on a large TV in the garden room, while sipping wine or soda and noshing on sliders and chips.
The event was sponsored by the School’s Government Association and the Office of Student Affairs, which helped to decorate the space with red, white, and blue balloons and “vote” stickers, while handing out red and blue strings of beads.
But the election party also had a social mission. In one corner was a table bearing a sign that read “Donate to Hurricane Sandy Relief,” at which students could use two laptops to make electronic donations.
For Liz Grossman, a first-year student in the School’s International Education Policy program who gathered with friends to track the voting results, the election had a surreal quality. Grossman spent the last three years in Senegal teaching English, and returned to a “very polarized and overwhelming climate” in the United States.
“I feel like the candidates have been attacking each other a lot instead of talking about the issues,” she said.
Grossman also expressed a sentiment likely on many voters’ minds as the election season finally wound to a close. “I just hope we find out tonight,” she said.
— Colleen Walsh
At the polls
Winnie Williams, a poll worker at the Graduate School of Design’s Gund Hall, was upbeat in the early afternoon despite arriving at 6 a.m. and looking ahead to several more hours until the polls would close at 8 p.m. Poll work is not without its rewards, however — Fletcher University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. came in to vote and, along the way, stopped to chat and gave her a kiss on the cheek, Williams said.
Quincy House resident James Hutchins was among the Gund Hall voters. His biggest complaint about the campaign was that the months of back-and-forth between candidates did little to show how a candidate will actually perform as president.
“You don’t see that in the campaign,” he said.
Margaret Rennix, a student in Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, had a jacket over her Obama T-shirt while voting. She credited the presidential debate with sparking her interest in the race, as she found herself questioning the accuracy of some of Mitt Romney’s statements. “I almost wish they had to give evidence [for their positions] before each debate,” Rennix said.
Mark McKinnon, a columnist for the Daily Beast and a former Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy fellow, reviewed the presidential race in a packed seminar room at the Taubman Building noon Tuesday.
McKinnon, who worked for the second President Bush and recently founded a bipartisan group called No Labels, cited 20 key factors in the race, including both things that happened — Obama got bin Laden — and things that may have changed the race because they didn’t happen, such as Sarah Palin’s decision not to run.
Soundbytes: Mark McKinnon
McKinnon also had a caution for those who look at the predictions and the polls and think they know how the race will turn out. He recalled the 2004 race when he was working for Bush and the exit polling was leaning toward Kerry, only to be reversed in the final result, and in 2008, when the conventional wisdom was that an African-American couldn’t get elected president in this country.
“Every election, just throw the conventional wisdom out the window,” McKinnon said.
— Alvin Powell
In voting, ‘I have a voice now’
In early mornings at Harvard, campus workers outnumber students. Election Day was no different. On Oxford Street at 8 a.m., Francisca Palacios, a custodian with Facilities Maintenance Operations, was already two hours into her workday at the Hoffman Laboratory.
Wearing a crimson uniform, she was working in the building’s foyer, a yellow duster under one arm. It was a big day for Palacios, 46, an immigrant from El Salvador who just became an American citizen in September. She was going to vote for the first time anywhere. In El Salvador, she had gotten a national ID card at age 18, but in the 1980s, war there made democracy difficult.
“I’m excited — happy, you know,” she said of being able to vote, which she would do in Somerville when her shift ended in midafternoon. “When I get the citizenship, I think to myself: I can vote. I have a voice now.”
Having a voice is important to Palacios, whose education stopped at age 14. When her mother died, she was left to care for five younger brothers and sisters. Before that, during the fighting in her country, she and a brother — both old enough to carry rifles — hid in the forest outside her village every morning, when rebels passed by to press teenagers into service. At age 22, she traveled by car and train through Guatemala and Mexico to cross the American border. That was in 1988.
“I remember when I came to the United States, how difficult it was to live here when you don’t have a paper,” she said. “Today, I can vote. My voice might make a small difference, especially for young people who want the Dream Act,” which would allow undocumented young people to attend college.
Palacios, who also runs a housecleaning business with her husband and has two children in school, has seen how immigrants can struggle to fit in, to make ends meet, and to help their families. Her vote, she said, would “give a little help for the immigrant. I live in the body of this person.”
— Corydon Ireland
A variety of multimedia from across Harvard University focusing on the issues at the forefront of the 2012 presidential election can be heard on our Election 2012 collection on iTunes.
Soundbytes: Election 2012