Dear Harvard College Class of 2021,
Congratulations on your admission to Harvard, and welcome to this incredible, multi-generational and inclusive community of learning. I am thrilled that we will have the opportunity to begin a new year of our academic lives together. During my three years as Dean of Harvard College, I have seen our community come together in good times and in challenging times — pushing one another to become more thoughtful and engaged citizens and supporting one another in times of need. In the days before you arrive on campus, I write to share my thoughts with you about the community you are about to enter, and the journey you are set to begin.
As you think about the courses you plan to take this fall and the extracurricular activities you want to pursue here on campus, I want to assure you that there is no “best” way to experience a Harvard College education. And as you prepare for your arrival on campus, I want to encourage you to consider how you will use your time here, where you will devote your talents, and what you might do to contribute to the Harvard community. While it might be easy to continue familiar patterns in a new place, I want to remind you that your past does not define you. At Harvard, you will author your own story, and in the process, you will help write the next chapter of Harvard’s story as well.
When you arrive on campus, you will find that our community — like our society more generally — is engaged in passionate conversations about many topics. I want to remind you that civil and honest dialogue serves as the keystone of our learning community. In order for such dialogue to happen, our community depends on each of us treating each other with dignity and respect — in our residences and in the classroom, on the athletic fields, in our social experiences, and above all, in our daily interactions. When each of us takes an active, engaged role in shaping the community we would like to see at Harvard and beyond, we are at our best.
Harvard seeks to prepare students for our diverse and connected world by creating an inclusive educational experience and a culture that respects the dignity of each individual on our campus. You are part of the most diverse class in Harvard’s history, and when you arrive, you will find that our curriculum is alive and evolving to broaden the knowledge and perspectives we teach. This fall marks the second year of our new Expository Writing 10 curriculum and the launch of a new ethnic studies track in the History and Literature concentration. We are also excited to welcome the Islamic scholar Khalil Abdur-Rashid as the University’s first Muslim Chaplin.
Consistent with our goal of creating an inclusive campus experience, I also want to draw your attention to Harvard College’s new policy on membership in single-gender social organizations which takes effect this fall. This policy states that Harvard College students matriculating in the fall of 2017 and thereafter who join unrecognized single-gender social organizations will not be permitted to hold leadership positions in recognized student organizations or on College athletic teams. These students will also not be eligible to receive the Danoff Dean of Harvard College’s endorsement letters for fellowships that require such endorsements. While a faculty committee appointed by FAS Dean Michael Smith has preliminarily recommended a different policy for faculty consideration to minimize the impact of unrecognized social organizations on our community, the College’s current policy remains in place. To be clear, this policy does not prevent you from choosing your own path at Harvard, but it does make clear the College’s position on discrimination. If you have questions about this policy, you can contact Chris Gilbert in the Office of Student Life. Read more about it here.
As we continue to seek new ways to bring our community together this fall and throughout the 2017-2018 academic year, my office will be using digital communications and social media, including Instagram, web pages, and other channels to facilitate collaborative and transparent communication with the Harvard community.
When you arrive on campus, I look forward to having many discussions with you about your education and your vision for our community. As we work together to write the next chapter of Harvard’s history to ensure its excellence in the 21st century, we are going to make mistakes. Making change like learning is hard. It is not always seamless. It can be messy. But this is the nature of our work. I know that by working together, we can positively shape our community and sustain Harvard’s bright future.
Danoff Dean of Harvard College