Skip to main content

The Unfinished Business of Creating a More Just Society

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

Recent weeks have brought yet more devastating tragedies across our nation. The heartbreaking killings of Adam Toledo and Daunte Wright, two young people who had so much of their lives yet to live, and the gut-wrenching testimony recounting George Floyd’s final minutes, have focused this country again on the killings of African Americans and other people of color by police. The list of those whose names we know is long, and a full list would include many others whose names we do not know, and whose deaths did not occur in broad daylight, in full view of multiple witnesses, or with cell phone or body cameras recording.

No words can capture the hurt, fear, anger, and grief felt about these tragedies by so many in our community, across this country, and around the world. It is appalling and unjust that people in our nation, by virtue of the color of their skin, face a greater risk of being killed in a police encounter if they are driving with an expired tag or a burnt-out taillight, if they make a rolling stop, if they somehow arouse a store clerk’s suspicion, or if they are just coming home from a family dinner.

The terrible impact of these tragedies goes far beyond the lives lost, children deprived of their parents and parents deprived of their children. In a system in which police have vast discretion to stop people on suspicion of minor offenses, so many people of color in this country live with an ever-present sense of vulnerability because of the possibility that a police encounter will result in tragedy.

Harvard’s motto, Veritas, requires a commitment to truth. The truth is that racism runs through the history of the United States and continues to have deadly effects on people of color in this country today. The truth is that our society is far from eradicating the evil of racism, whatever the verdict in the latest trial.

We, as a community, must stand against racism. We must commit ourselves to the unfinished work of building a just society—one in which everyone’s rights and safety are protected, and everyone’s dignity is honored.


Lawrence S. Bacow
President, Harvard University

Tomiko Brown-Nagin
Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

Nancy Coleman
Dean, Harvard Division of Continuing Education

George Q. Daley
Dean, Harvard Medical School

Srikant Datar
Dean, Harvard Business School

Emma Dench
Dean, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Francis J. Doyle III
Dean, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Douglas Elmendorf
Dean, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Alan M. Garber
Provost, Harvard University

Claudine Gay
Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

William V. Giannobile
Dean, Harvard School of Dental Medicine

David N. Hempton
Dean, Harvard Divinity School

David F. Holland
Acting Dean, Harvard Divinity School

Rakesh Khurana
Dean, Harvard College

Katie Lapp
Executive Vice President, Harvard University

Bridget Terry Long
Dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education

John F. Manning
Dean, Harvard Law School

Sarah M. Whiting
Dean, Graduate School of Design

Michelle A. Williams
Dean, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health