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Family Weekend

Remarks made by President Claudine Gay on October 27, 2023 at Family Weekend.

Welcome, Harvard families!

As Lily mentioned, my presidency began on July 1, and my inauguration happened on September 29—four weeks ago today.

So—I, too, am a first-year, and I, too, am learning new things every day.

For me, that is what being part of a University community—what being part of the Harvard community—means. We are committed to learning, always, and not just as a result of our scholarly pursuits but as a consequence of our togetherness.

Your students—first-years and juniors—are working and living side by side, encountering lines of difference, and, we hope, discovering ways to question those lines, to understand those lines, to reach across those lines.

We believe in the value of dynamic engagement.

We believe in the value of learning that happens when ideas and opinions collide—not to produce calm or consensus, but to advance reason and dialogue, to deepen understanding, to create knowledge—and, with it, all of the possibilities that knowledge ushers forth.

This aspiration is easy to salute in the abstract but difficult to protect in practice.

As I said in my inaugural address last month, debate and the inclusion of diverse viewpoints and experiences, while essential for our work, are not always easy to live with. They can be a recipe for discomfort, fired in the heat of social media and partisan rancor. And that discomfort can weaken the fabric of our community.

We gather today as a war is unfolding in Israel and Gaza—a conflict spurred by Hamas’s terrorist attacks, a conflict heightened by the captivity of hostages, by the deaths of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, infants and children among them. We gather today as a humanitarian crisis worsens.

I need not tell you about the ways in which this tragedy has strained—even broken—the bonds of fellowship among members of our community. I imagine you have been speaking with your students; I know you have been hearing from Dean Khurana; and I assume you have been following the news about my response—about the University’s response.

I want to reiterate some of what I have said over these past few weeks.

Harvard rejects terrorism. Harvard rejects hate—antisemitism, Islamophobia, hate of any group of people based on their faith, their national origin, or any aspects of their identity. Harvard rejects the harassment or intimidation of individuals based on their beliefs. Pernicious ideologies—and the unconscionable actions they can inspire—are an affront to all that we are and all that we seek to accomplish. They have no place here.

At the same time, Harvard embraces free expression, an embrace that grows stronger as tensions rise on our campus and in the wider world. When togetherness—and everything it represents for our future—seems impossible, it must endure. It must become for every person who is part of this community a challenge, a challenge to talk and to listen with humility, to engage others with compassion and with grace – to live and to lead by our best values, not our worst fears.

Some of us have failed to meet that challenge, choosing to engage in speech and conduct that is intended to deepen and widen divisions among us. This includes instances of antisemitism and of vitriol directed to supporters of Israel and to members of our Jewish community. This includes instances of Islamophobia and of relentless targeting of members of our Palestinian and Muslim communities. I have sat down with some of your children, your siblings, and your loved ones. I have listened to their concerns, and I have offered my support and the support of this institution.

The safety and wellbeing of our community is my utmost priority. Students in Harvard College—students across the University—will continue to be encouraged to report any instances of intimidation, any threats or acts of harassment or violence, through a number of channels, some of which are anonymous. They will also continue to receive reminders of the many supports and resources available to help them through this incredibly difficult time. Please know that we are here for those who are dear to you and that you may call on us at any time.

My commitment to you—as president of this institution—is that your students will continue to be part of a community that wants them to thrive, and that they will continue to be part of a University that has the courage to hold fast to its principles even as it identifies and addresses its shortcomings.

Thank you for joining us for the weekend.

Thank you for being part of Harvard.

Thank you for sharing your student with us.