To Connect with Students, Khurana Turns to Instagram

Students have a new lens through which to view the Harvard College Dean’s Office—Instagram.

Last year, student leaders praised botanist and then-interim dean Donald H. Pfister’s signature email messages to students, known for book recommendations and references to Yard plant life, for giving the Dean’s Office a personable face.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who assumed the role in July, has taken to social media in the way Pfister took to email. While his emails to the student body so far have been mostly informative—his most recent was a welcome back message—the social media platform Instagram has become his virtual space of choice for more personal student outreach.

Khurana said he sees Instagram, which connects with Facebook and is used primarily for sharing photos and videos, as a way to “document [his] journey” as dean. Because students can choose whether or not to look at Instagram—they do not automatically receive a notification when Khurana updates his profile—he plans to use email primarily to inform.

“I don’t want people to feel like they have to see these [Instagram] things,” Khurana said. “If you send an email out to students, it’s often because you’re really asking everybody to read it. When we send emails, we want to make sure that they’re of importance enough that they’re to inform our community.”

This is not the first time that Khurana, also co-master of Cabot House, has utilized social media. For example, Cabot House joined Twitter last year, and its alumni have a LinkedIn page. Now, as dean, Khurana is combining several platforms—email, Instagram, and traditional in-person outreach through office hours and meals in dining halls—to connect with students.

“A lot of what I’m hoping this does is encourage people to walk into University Hall [and] feel like it’s not some kind of cordoned-off place, but rather that it’s also a place that students should feel really comfortable with,” Khurana said.

Previous deans have experimented with their own student outreach techniques. Every finals period, students congregated in Lamont Cafe when Evelynn M. Hammonds, who stepped down from the College deanship in 2013, brought them pizza and burritos. Pfister, who succeeded Hammonds after her controversial departure, offered cupcakes.

Both students and administrators point to Pfister’s strategy as one that set a precedent. Khurana, for his part, said Pfister demonstrated how important communication is to the job.

Pfister had a “wonderful demeanor” and “humanness” that really came through, said Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde. Lassonde said Khurana’s conversations with students serve to convey a similar sense of personality.

“The students need to perceive him as their dean,” he said.

Khurana’s Instagram profile, which mostly hosts photos of students and landmarks around Harvard, has drawn more than 890 followers since its creation just two months ago. Undergraduate Council President Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15 is not one of those followers—he does not have an Instagram account—but he said outreach from the Dean’s Office is critical.

“A really important part of the Dean’s job is not just to be communicating with students who are in the student government, but students who aren’t,” Mayopoulos said.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at steven.lee@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.

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