December 8, 2014
Dear Harvard College Students,
As I write this letter, I know that my words cannot begin to express the emotions or claim the lived experiences that so many of us are feeling in the wake of the events in Ferguson and Staten Island. But there are moments when we cannot stay silent. So with great humility, I share these few thoughts.
Our nation is struggling with very serious issues around racial equality, violence, public safety, and our justice system. I was profoundly affected by the words of Professor Walton, who described the consequences of America’s criminal justice system on our most vulnerable fellow citizens in his powerful sermon on Sunday. And I have watched and listened in awe of our students, faculty, and staff who have come together to declare with passion, grace, and growing resolve that “Black Lives Matter” and to call for justice, for ally-ship, and for hope.
The diversity of our student body at Harvard College should be on the forefront of this paradigm shift. If we are to fulfill our mission of educating citizens and citizen-leaders for our world, the College must create a community that allows each of our students to experience fundamental lessons that are intellectually, socially, and personally transformative. We are living through a moment in this nation’s history when such experiences will find any one of you who chooses to take notice of what is happening beyond the gates of our campus.
Last week, as he accepted the 2014 Harvard Humanitarian Award, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded us that at Harvard we stand in a unique position to shape our world’s future on important issues, such as justice, inclusion, fairness, and the environment. He called upon us to find a common humanity while educating ourselves in order to reduce suffering in others and in ourselves. I hope each of you will insist on drawing attention to our failures as a society, and that this insistence will be the result of what you are learning, of mutual education and understanding, and of new reckonings of what it means to live in a community based on the dignity of, and respect for, everyone we encounter. This is what we must strive for.
Many in our College community are in pain and struggling right now, and no matter our understanding of the issue, we must come together to comfort and support each other. On Human Rights Day, this coming Wednesday, Dec. 10, I invite you to join Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Emelyn dela Peña and me in the Parlor Room of Phillips Brooks House at 5:00 p.m. for an opportunity to gather as a community and listen to one other. I want you to know that those of us in the College—administrators, house masters, tutors, proctors, and deans in the Yard and Houses—care for you and are here to support you during this time.
Note: Human Rights Day was incorrectly identified as "International Human Rights Day" in the initial message and has been amended above.