Dear Harvard College Students,
I am writing today to share my heartfelt congratulations to you for reaching the end of the academic year.
This year, we renewed many aspects of life on campus that we had previously taken for granted. I hope that you found joy, as I did, in experiencing the many small moments that make up our lives on campus —the shared meals, the chance encounter in the Yard, the quick "hello" between classes, the afternoon on the Widener steps.
As we mark the end of the semester, I want to tell you about some conversations that I have had this spring with a group of students and faculty members about the intellectual climate on campus. These conversations, initiated by students with a wide range of views, focused on how the College’s mission is challenged when members of our community are afraid to express our thoughts and ideas because we feel we might be misunderstood or that our comments could be taken out of context and shared on social media. We also discussed the ways in which the current climate can make it difficult to generate new and better ideas in a world that is desperate for them.
We all know that important ideas don't come to the world fully formed. Instead, they need to be incubated and discussed in an atmosphere of open exchange among friends, classmates, and faculty members. Our strongest ideas emerge when we assume the best intentions and treat each other as fellow travelers pursuing knowledge and truth. In our conversations this year, we also acknowledged that the ability to express who we are and what we believe is essential if we are going to grow and change as individuals and as a community. While we did not come to any conclusions, we agreed that we need to work harder to create a climate of intellectual vitality that is rooted in open and rigorous inquiry.
In the fall, I hope to expand the discussions we began this spring to include all of us. We need to work together as a community to cultivate norms and values that will allow us to grow as individuals and fully embrace each other while recognizing that we will not always agree.
Wherever you are this summer, I hope you will take some time to reflect on how we can strengthen intellectual vitality in our community. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts in the coming academic year. Until then, be well, and I wish you a safe and enjoyable summer.
Danoff Dean of Harvard College