Dear members of the FAS community,
As we look ahead to the start of a fall semester unlike any other, we confront the realization that we are now living history in the making. This moment has been shaped by crises old and new, as one pandemic has collided with another. The COVID-19 pandemic is a truly singular event; a public health threat that has spared no part of our academic enterprise from disruption, forcing us to reimagine everything from undergraduate residential life to the daily activities of our labs and libraries. Meanwhile, a second pandemic is unfolding, one with deeper roots in American life. People across the world have risen up in protest against police brutality and systemic racism, awake to the devastating legacies of slavery and white supremacy like never before. The calls for racial justice heard on our streets also echo on our campus, as we reckon with our individual and institutional shortcomings and with our Faculty’s shared responsibility to bring truth to bear on the pernicious effects of structural inequality. Even as our opportunities to be together on campus are limited, now is the time to reengage and reconnect, both with each other and with the promise of our mission to advance knowledge and discovery in service of a more just world.
This moment offers a profound opportunity for institutional change that should not and cannot be squandered. The national conversation around racial equity continues to gain momentum and the unprecedented scale of mobilization and demand for justice gives me hope. In raw, candid conversations and virtual gatherings convened across the FAS in the aftermath of George Floyd’s brutal murder, members of our community spoke forcefully and with searing clarity about the institution we aspire to be and the lengths we still must travel to be the Harvard of our ideals. It is up to us to ensure that the pain expressed, problems identified, and solutions suggested set us on a path for long-term change. I write today to share my personal commitment to this transformational project and the first steps the FAS will take to advance this important agenda in the coming year.
Amplify teaching and research on racial and ethnic inequality
The project of building a truly inclusive scholarly community begins with what we consider worthy of research and teaching. A full account of contemporary American society demands scholarship that affirms the relevance, significance, and worth of diverse cultural backgrounds and histories. Moreover, preparing our students for leadership in today’s globalized yet profoundly unequal society, requires an education that includes the voices, stories, and lived experiences of those too long pushed to the margins. With these goals in mind, I plan a series of investments across our academic enterprise.
This fall, we will reactivate the cluster hire in ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration, with the goal of making four new faculty appointments. These appointments are critical to our long-term efforts to strengthen our research and teaching capacity, and ensure that our students have access to this vital body of knowledge. In order to accelerate our progress, however, I am also establishing the Harvard College Visiting Professorship in Ethnicity, Indigeneity, and Migration to recruit leading scholars of race and ethnicity to spend a year at Harvard College actively engaged in teaching our undergraduates. Beginning in 2021-2022, the FAS will appoint up to two new visiting scholars each year, based on recommendations from academic departments. Finally, to seed new research directions and develop the next generation of scholars, we will also invest in the academic pipeline. The Inequality in America postdoctoral fellowship program, which currently recruits two new fellows each year, will be expanded in the coming year to recruit two additional early career scholars whose work focuses specifically on issues of racial and ethnic inequality.
Foster a more inclusive visual culture
The FAS has a long and proud history of discovery and achievement that is worthy of celebration. But it also has painful chapters of its history, marred by exclusion and discrimination. To become the inclusive scholarly community we aspire to be, we must confront our dual legacies with honesty, humility, and resolve, including how they are visually represented in the spaces where we work, live, and learn. Our visual culture should reflect our deep, abiding commitments to advance knowledge and critical thinking, honoring our past in a truthful way, while also celebrating the diversity and vitality of our present and instilling a sense of pride and belonging that is equally available to all members of our community. Honest and rigorous conversation about how we weave together our past, present, and future is necessary to build the stronger, more equitable FAS we envision.
This fall, I am launching the Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage to take up this consequential conversation. Led by the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Robin Kelsey, this task force will convene a group of faculty, staff, and students from across the FAS to conduct a comprehensive study of our visual culture and articulate principles and informed guidelines for evolving the visual culture and imagery of the FAS. It is my hope that this work will provide a stronger foundation for the creative and meaningful action already happening at the local level, as well as catalyze new, more systematic visual change across the whole of the FAS.
Build our capacity to pursue inclusive excellence
Aligning our values with institutional action will bring us closer to the Harvard we aspire to be. But to make meaningful strides, our efforts cannot be ad hoc or lack accountability to a comprehensive strategy with concrete and measurable goals. What is required is focused, intentional action at every level of the FAS to dismantle the cultural and structural barriers that have precluded progress. And we must put real resources behind this work. Good intentions alone will not suffice.
As a first step towards building our capacity for inclusive excellence, I soon will appoint the inaugural Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for the FAS. Their work will be dedicated to the creation and implementation of an FAS-wide strategic vision for inclusive excellence that enables all members of our community to be seen, heard, and to flourish. They will report directly to me, and will work closely with the FAS senior leadership team to develop concrete goals and identify personal, departmental, divisional, and school-level actions for building an effective and active culture of anti-racism in the FAS.
Expand leadership opportunities for staff of color
Staff leaders of color remain significantly underrepresented in the FAS, and we are missing out on this talent to our own detriment. The benefits of diverse teams for organizational performance are well-documented, from spurring innovation and creative problem solving to challenging the assumptions and conventional wisdom that limit our thinking. Understanding the needs of our increasingly diverse student body demands fresh ideas and perspectives so that we make the best possible decisions for our community. If inclusive excellence is our goal, addressing the racial disparities in our administrative leadership must be part of the plan.
I will launch a study of the hiring, professional development, and promotion practices that may contribute to the low representation of minority staff in managerial and executive roles carrying significant decision-making responsibility and authority. Led by the incoming Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, and working closely with Leslie Kirwan, Dean for Administration and Finance, Nina Zipser, Dean for Faculty Affairs, and Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College, the study will identify concrete steps we can take to increase racial diversity of senior staff and recommend near- and long-term hiring goals for the FAS.
These initiatives are just a starting place. Our engagement in anti-racist action and the infusion of inclusive practices into all aspects of our teaching and research mission reflect a new sense of institutional responsibility and will require sustained effort over time. Just like the learning that takes place in our classrooms and labs, this work demands thoughtful attention, experimentation (not all of which will be successful), and patience and humility for when we get it wrong. No one person or institution (not even Harvard!) has all the answers, and we cannot achieve our goals without the courage to listen deeply and generously and to act with urgency, seriousness of purpose, and a mind towards continual growth. The work of racial justice is not a one-time project. We must be relentless, constructively critical, and action-oriented in our pursuit to build the thriving, more equitable FAS we all deserve.
Even as I say that, I am clear-eyed that the work of real change will be difficult and for many it will be uncomfortable. Change is messy work. Institutional inertia will threaten to overwhelm even our best efforts. If we are to succeed, we must challenge a status quo that is comfortable and convenient for many. But I believe progress can be made and will be beneficial to all members of our community.
Collectively, we are the authors of Harvard’s future. As we begin this historic year, I offer you my personal commitment to be a partner and ally in the work for equity and justice. And I urge you all to lean into the profound optimism that animates our mission and join your colleagues in building what will ultimately be a proud chapter in the long story of Harvard.