Dear Harvard College Students,
As our first semester back together comes to a close, I feel both invigorated by our return to campus life and ready for the holiday break. As thrilled as I have been to return to campus, I have also been in a state of unrelenting alertness for many months now, ready to respond to new information and ensure our community's well-being. I know that many of you have also found being back on campus both exhilarating and stressful as you navigated classes, extracurriculars, and social activities. As we slow down for the winter break, I hope we can each take time to reflect and process our experiences and to seek activities that will bring us peace and renewed energy.
The inadequacies of our current ways of thinking and living have been laid bare by this moment in our history. The environmental crisis, the fights for justice, and all that we have experienced during the pandemic have taken a psychological and physical toll. It is difficult to see beyond the current moment and daunting to imagine solutions to these problems. But at their best, university communities produce new ways of thinking and different ways of solving problems. And so we must continue our work of imagining and modeling a better future.
I have been thinking lately about the concept of prefiguration—the idea that social change happens when people enact new modes of interaction and act as if the type of world they want to bring about already exists. Prefigurative practices are essential because they show people that the status quo is not inevitable and an alternative future is possible. Rather than waiting for the world to change, we become the change. I see many of you on this campus already taking steps towards creating new norms around justice, climate change, and democratic participation, and this gives me hope for the future. To truly undertake the prefigurative work of bringing about a new future, we need to be comfortable with change, listen profoundly and respectfully, and forgive ourselves and each other for missteps along the way.
As we move into the new year, I hope above all that we continue to be gentle with each other and ourselves.
I wish you a restorative and relaxing winter break.
(pronouns: he, him, his)
Danoff Dean of Harvard College
Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development, Harvard Business School, and Department of Sociology