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Announcement of Presidential Task Forces

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

Among the repercussions of conflict in the Middle East have been the loss of family and friends among many members of our community, as well as feelings of uncertainty, abandonment, mistrust, and fear. Incidents of bias and hate against Jews and against Muslims, Palestinians, and other people of Arab descent have risen across the country. Reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic acts on our campus have grown, and the sense of belonging among these groups has been undermined. We need to understand why and how that is happening—and what more we might do to prevent it.
I write today to announce two presidential task forces: one devoted to combating antisemitism and one devoted to combating Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias. Though differently focused, the groups are similarly charged with:

  • examining recent history and current manifestations of bias;
  • identifying the root causes of and contributing factors to bias-based behaviors on campus;
  • evaluating evidence regarding the characteristics and frequency of these behaviors; and
  • recommending approaches to combat bias and to mitigate its impact on campus. 

The Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism will be co-chaired by Derek Penslar, William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Raffaella Sadun, Charles E. Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. The Presidential Task Force on Combating Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Bias will be co-chaired by Wafaie Fawzi, Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences, and Professor of Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, Sumitomo-FASID Professor of International Finance and Development at Harvard Kennedy School. I have asked that the work of the task forces be completed as soon as is feasible, and I will share reports and recommendations in due course.
I am exceedingly grateful to Derek, Raffaella, Wafaie, and Asim for their willingness to serve the University in this capacity. Their leadership of our efforts will profoundly influence how we think about the role each of us plays in nurturing a climate of inclusion, especially at times when the ties that bind us as a community are under tremendous strain.
Strengthening our ties to one another will take considerable effort and engagement across the University. I have asked each task force to undertake broad outreach, and I encourage you to share your perspectives and your experiences with equal measures of care and candor. We have before us an opportunity to meet challenges with far-reaching implications, and I am appreciative, as ever, for your help in our efforts.
Alan M. Garber