FAS Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage

September 29, 2020

Dear members of the FAS community,
As one of several steps the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is taking to advance racial justice in our community, I am writing to launch the work of the FAS Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage. This Task Force will take up the important conversation of how we foster a more inclusive visual culture across the FAS, connecting our past with the promise of our future. Our campus has been home to generations of faculty and students who are part of a long history of pathbreaking accomplishment, advancing fields of knowledge and leading change in the world around them. But that rich history is also beset by chapters of exclusion and discrimination that are in deep tension with the vibrant, diverse campus community we celebrate today and the truly inclusive scholarly community we aspire to be. How and where we memorialize individuals, events, and moments in our institutional history through imagery and symbols should reflect our core institutional commitments to truth, knowledge, and critical thinking. At the same time, they should authentically represent the possibility inherent in our present moment and encourage the sense of welcome and belonging each of us needs to feel seen, heard, and be able to thrive. To continue the work of building an FAS characterized by inclusive excellence, I am eager to bring the expertise and insights of our faculty, staff, and students to bear on this challenge.
With these obligations and opportunities in mind, and responding to the call of the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, I have charged the Task Force to conduct in-depth research to develop a set of principles and informed guidelines for how to evolve the visual culture and imagery across the FAS. In addition to articulating an overarching philosophical framework for our visual culture, I have also asked them to conduct a comprehensive survey of the current FAS visual landscape and identify opportunities and make recommendations for immediate intervention, as well as provide a detailed description of best practices and resources available to all FAS units wanting to advance the visual culture in their local spaces. It is my sincere hope that this work will provide a stronger foundation for existing local efforts, as well as catalyze new, more systemic change across the FAS.
I am deeply grateful to Dean of Arts and Humanities, Robin Kelsey, who has agreed to lead this work. An award-winning scholar of visual arts in his own right, Dean Kelsey has been a fierce advocate for bringing the visual arts into purposeful dialogue with the Harvard community. Through his leadership on the Harvard University Committee on the Arts (HUCA), he has championed sustained engagement with the arts as a powerful means to transform our perceptions of ourselves and our institution, and to encourage, enable, and prompt us to contend with our complicated histories. I am grateful for the benefit of his insight and leadership of this effort, as well as for the willingness of the members who have agreed to serve:

  • Shelby Acteson, Associate Director of University Disability Resources 
  • Jennifer Allen, Director of Collections Management, Harvard Art Museums 
  • Lowell Brower, Lecturer on Folklore and Mythology 
  • Dan Byers, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts
  • Teju Cole, Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing
  • Philip Deloria, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History
  • Sarah Duncan, Manager of IT Operations, Institute for Quantitative Social Science
  • Maryellen Fitzgibbon, Senior Planner, Office of Physical Resources and Planning
  • Adriana Gallegos, Manager of Administrative Operations, Harvard Library
  • Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History
  • James Mathew, President, Undergraduate Council
  • Michael McGarrah, Vice President, GSAS Student Council
  • Ian Miller, Professor of History and Faculty Dean of Cabot House
  • Venkatesh Murthy, Raymond Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Sandra Naddaff, Senior Lecturer on Literature and Comparative Literature; Dean of Harvard Summer School
  • Sheree Ohen, FAS Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
  • Jane Pickering, William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
  • Veronica Santana, Assistant Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Sheila Thimba, Dean for Administration and Finance, Harvard College 
  • Alexis Turner, President, GSAS Student Council
  • Ifeoma E. White-Thorpe, Vice President, Undergraduate Council
The work ahead belongs not only to this Task Force, but is a common project that belongs to us all. Over the coming months, the Task Force will engage in active outreach across the FAS. I hope you will lend them your time and insights. If you have thoughts or ideas to share about how the FAS can advance a more inclusive visual culture, you may also write to the Task Force at fasvisualculture@fas.harvard.edu. Their work will greatly benefit from the thoughtful input of members of the FAS community.
I look forward to learning from the Task Force as they delve into the issues presented in their charge, and even more to the vibrant and inclusive future of the FAS this work will help bring about. 
Claudine Gay
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences