Lady Gaga visited the Harvard campus Wednesday to officially launch her Born This Way Foundation, a youth-empowerment organization aimed at stopping bullying and violence.
Gaga was mobbed by fans as she walked across the Harvard campus dressed in a chic black dress and lace gloves, topped with an elaborate headpiece and veil. For what may have been the first time in her career, the singer was all business as she took the stage in Sanders Theater.
The day continued with a panel discussion which included Gaga and other social justice experts, including Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, and US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. Several Harvard professors and Gaga’s mother and Foundation co-founder, Cynthia Germanotta, were also on the panel.
Harvard University President, Drew G. Faust, opened the event. Winfrey then announced her support for the Foundation, likening it to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the beginning of the anti-smoking movement. The Born This Way Foundation seeks to end bullying inside and outside classrooms by spreading a message of tolerance and openness for diversity. Gaga said the Foundation is in its beginning stages, and admits she has much to learn concerning social justice.
“Use me!” the pop sensation cried during the panel. Gaga hopes she can use her star power to spread the movement, but wants to make sure she’s delivering the best help. “I really want to become as educated as I can on the issues,” said Gaga. “We don’t have all the answers, and what we’re looking to do is to bring the best way to formulate a system — a criteria. Right now, the message is love, acceptance, bravery. But we are going to delve further into the issue.”
Outside the crowded theater, a smaller group of equally committed individuals staged a protest in honor of Harvard students from the 1920s who were expelled by the school for being gay.
The protest group, called Their Day in the Yard, was created in 2010 and seeks justice for the students, two of whom committed suicide upon being expelled. After a small protest during Gaga’s entry, the group delivered a petition with 5,400 signatures to President Faust’s office.
The petition demands that Harvard publicly apologize for its past homophobia by awarding posthumous degrees to the seven students.
Kaia Stern, a lecturer at the Divinity School who spoke at the protest and led the group in a moment of silence, told the Harvard Crimson that their actions were not in protest of Lady Gaga’s foundation or presence at the school.
“This is an awareness action,” said Stern to the Crimson. “We are here in solidarity with the Born This Way Foundation.”
So far, the Born This Way Foundation, backed by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and with grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the California Endowment, is starting an online support system that encourages youth activism.
Gaga also plans to help with her “Born Brave” bus, a massive mobile headquarters for the Foundation that Gaga will take along with her on a new concert tour. The bus will serve as a refuge for fans wanting to support Gaga’s cause.
Even with high-profile supporters, Gaga knows the Born This Way Foundation will require an extreme amount of commitment and sacrifice to give the movement real momentum. “It sounds small,” said Gaga. “But overtime, I feel it will be very big. And if there’s one person that knows how to get a message out there, it’s me.”