Dear Harvard College Students,
In just a few days most of you will return to campus to begin another academic year. We can hardly wait to see you! Some of you have already arrived to welcome the Class of 2021 to our community or to begin training for your athletic seasons. The Yard, the Houses, our athletic fields and facilities, and our academic spaces have begun to come alive with spirit and Harvard pride. It’s a scene that has given me hope and comfort amidst the events of the past week.
I typically write to you in late summer to share a few brief thoughts about the coming year, but in light of recent events, I cannot start there. I have to start with Charlottesville: It was horrifying to see the KKK and neo-Nazis, with their torches and flags emblazoned with swastikas, march through the University and town. These groups, their words, their actions, and the ideas behind them deserve our strongest condemnation. As we gather back in Cambridge, what we do next matters. It is our responsibility to think about the kind of community we want to be and continually work to build that community on our campus.
Each of you has chosen to make Harvard your home, and to make your fellow students your family and friends. For that choice, I am incredibly grateful and humbled. When our newest community members join us on August 22, they will constitute the most diverse class in Harvard’s history. Our community of more than 6,000 hails from every state in the U.S. and 109 countries. This incredible heterogeneity enriches our community and makes each of us stronger. As we begin this new academic year, I want to share with you my fundamental beliefs about what our community stands for and should stand for.
- While we may each be different from one another, not one of us is lesser for those differences.
- While we may hold differing opinions and beliefs, we have the ability to discuss them honestly and respectfully — upholding each other’s dignity as human beings and assuming the best of each other.
- Our differences are a vital source of learning — for understanding others’ experiences and points of view and discovering our commonalities, as well as our differences. As future graduates, you will carry into the world the wisdom and insight gained by learning from others of different backgrounds, and the world will be the better for it.
- Accountability and integrity in all that we do is vital to creating a community rooted in honor and respect.
- Our College motto—Veritas—is central to building trust on our campus. The search for truth is a call to each of us to seek knowledge beyond our default assumptions, to broaden our intellectual and social horizons, to engage with ideas, perspectives, and opinions different than our own, and to staunchly defend the dignity of each member of our community, because in so doing we reach greater understanding of ourselves and each other.
During my time as Dean of the College and Faculty Dean of Cabot House, I’ve been heartened by how these beliefs are reflected in the core values of our community of students, staff, and faculty. Veritas, honor, and inclusion are the values we as a community have chosen for ourselves.
I hope that as you return to campus, you will reflect on these values and ask yourselves these questions: What will each of us do this fall to affirm the dignity and humanity of others, no matter our differences? How will we listen and learn from each other? How will we make each person we encounter feel valued? How will we respond to injustice in a constructive way? How will we tackle difficult and challenging issues and topics, especially when we do not agree? How will we hold ourselves accountable for our actions and their impact? I hope, too, that you will model for our incoming class a commitment to inquiry, respect, and caring.
I also want to share some news with you regarding a topic that generated much respectful dialogue last spring. I am happy to announce that the College will pilot a new pre-orientation program for incoming freshmen in 2018. The purpose of this program will be to support students in their academic and cultural transition to college life. We hope that this program will be especially effective at building community and fostering a sense of belonging among students from historically marginalized communities. The program will be developed as a collaborative effort between student-leaders, the Freshman Dean’s Office (FDO), and the Advising Programs Office (APO). This decision was made possible by the thoughtful feedback that Dean of Freshmen Tom Dingman and I received from the First Generation Student Union (FGSU), and many students and student-leaders in the spring. We are grateful to them for working with us in a spirit of collaboration and partnership over the summer.
I hope that in the coming months, you will draw upon the strength of this community to create new knowledge and ideas that help address the shared challenges we face. You can show that our differences are the sources of infinite possibility. You can be, in your own way, a light in the darkness. Each day is an opportunity to be the positive change that is so needed right now.
I look forward to seeing you when you return to campus.
Danoff Dean of Harvard College