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After robbery, the "Harvard bubble"
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Posted by Rob Anderson  November 12, 2010 11:26 AM

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hard.JPGI couldn't have been the only one who did a double take when I saw this news. Early Thursday morning, an armed robbery took place on Harvard Yard, a site normally associated with tourists, busy students and professors, and the pomp and circumstance of commencement ceremonies. The Globe reports:

A male unaffiliated with the university was robbed at gunpoint by an unknown male as he walked through the yard near Thayer Hall, a freshman dormitory, at about 2:45 a.m. Thursday, an advisory posted on the university police department's website said.

The victim handed over his wallet and the robber fled the area, the advisory said. The robber was described as a Hispanic male, in his 20s, 5-feet-9, with a thin build, facial hair, and dark clothing, including a black baseball hat.

Officials were right to remind members of the university community that they live and work "in an urban setting and share many of the crime and safety issues that exist in any city." Students, especially, can forget that. A few years ago, undergraduate Jonathan B. Steinman explained what he thinks the "Harvard bubble" is and why it troubles him:

Most of us seem to refer to the “bubble” as if it were some geographical feature of Harvard Square. But it is as much mental as physical. We make conscious choices every day to protect ourselves by ignoring: We skip over the horrors of another article about more carnage in Iraq, or gingerly step around destitute homeless people in Harvard square. This willful ignorance grows out of a Harvard culture that makes it too easy to lose a sense of time and place and simply melt into a state of mind focused only on books and tests, parties and pregames.

It’s easy to forget that each day, people make decisions and face losses whose personal impacts dwarf those that most of us behind the Ivy gates of Harvard ever encounter. ... At 19, as I ponder my current toughest decisions—whether to take a class with one Nobel laureate or another—I hope that something I’m learning here will prepare me for the kind of decisions and hardship that we must all face at some point.

I don't know how many members of the Harvard community would agree with Steinman's characterization of the bubble, but this week's robbery had to surprise a least a few people there. To be sure, this isn't the first time Harvard has dealt with violence recently. A botched drug deal ended in murder in a Harvard dorm last year, and a man committed suicide on campus this September. Plus, the university certainly isn't unique in facing issues of "surprising" crime and violence. But people on college campuses across the country -- well, for that matter, people in communities across the country -- oftentimes forget about the realities that surround them. But then reality happens. It always does.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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