Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
Yesterday, a number of Harvard students gathered in support and solidarity with those at Yale, the University of Missouri, and elsewhere who have been calling for racial justice and full inclusion on their campuses. Across this University, from Longwood to Cambridge, members of our community have joined together in a variety of settings, occasions, and conversations to articulate their deep concern, their profound disappointment, and even their anguish that we have not as an institution, and as a wider society, lived up to our ideals. Today, I want to reaffirm what I stated a little more than a year ago: it is well beyond time “for Harvard to ensure the fundamental justice that guarantees every member of this community an honored seat at the welcome table.”
We have much work to do to make certain that Harvard belongs to every one of us, that the diversity we strive to achieve also becomes belonging. We will not all always agree on the best ways forward. But we owe it to one another to shape an environment in which every one of us is fully included. That does not mean surrendering our commitment to open and vigorous debate. It does not mean a privileging of what is easy or what is comfortable over what is challenging. It means, rather, respecting the dignity and difference of all members of our community as we commit to addressing these difficult issues together; it means talking with rather than at or past one another; it means granting the benefit of the doubt and the presumption of good will. It means, in Dean Jim Ryan’s evocative phrase, a willingness to be “generous listeners” even as we speak our own minds. We must create the conditions in which each one of us feels confident in declaring, “I, too, am Harvard.”
Today, the College released a report of the Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion convened in the spring of 2014. The thoughtful recommendations of this group of students, faculty, and staff will serve as one important foundation on which to build a more truly inclusive community. The report also calls for a University-wide consideration of the issues of justice and belonging essential to who we are committed to be. I accept and will act on this proposal for a University-wide task force to guide us in work that must engage us all.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of a necessary spirit of “persistent trying, perpetual experimentation, persevering togetherness”—words that remain apt and inspiring still. He also wrote of why we can’t wait. A half-century later, we must recognize the urgency of our work—for all of us as individuals, for Harvard, and for our wounded and imperfect world.