Fair Harvard, We Revise Thy Jubilee Throng

The new contest to modernize the “Fair Harvard” alma mater does little to make Harvard a more inclusive campus.

At a University-wide event last week, the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging unveiled its future plans to promote inclusivity, one of which involves revising the 181-year-old Harvard alma mater, “Fair Harvard.” The committee has created a contest for all University affiliates to modernize the song—achieved by changing the last line, which currently reads “Till the stock of the Puritans die”—and by soliciting a new arrangement to the song itself, citing the precedent of the musical “Hamilton.” While we support the intention behind this well-meaning effort, we do not view the lyrics revision as helpful or useful in working towards greater inclusivity.

This is not the first time inclusion has been used as a reason to revise the alma mater; in 1998, the first line was changed to be gender-neutral. In this case, however, as anachronistic as the lyric may seem, this adjustment does very little to address the real concerns many students have about belonging at Harvard. We fail to see how this proposed change will be significant to the mission of the Task Force and the University at large.

Students do not engage with the alma mater on a regular basis. By contrast, other renamed or changed traditions involved phrases like “House Master” (a change we opposed) which were used regularly. Indeed, the line in question has not been a source of consternation among students. In our view, the proposed change merely serves as a token that will ultimately achieve little in the greater scope of issues that plague Harvard College.

It's not all bad: We're hopeful that, while this change may have been misguided, the overall effort might have the unexpected effect of re-engaging students with tradition. The contest to compose an alternative arrangement might provide students with the chance to interact with Harvard’s centuries-old rituals in new and innovative ways, allowing old Harvard to mix with the new. We hope it will succeed in this respect—allowing current students to approach Harvard’s history through new contexts—even if the updated lyrics are of little significance.

Inclusivity is a broad, multifaceted topic that must be approached at Harvard in numerous and sophisticated ways. Despite the best efforts of the administration, inequities continue to exist. Issues that deeply affect both students and faculty on this campus, such as the lack of a bridge program, an ethnic studies area of study, and a diverse faculty, cannot be solved by changing a two-centuries-old song. We ask for concrete solutions, not token modifications. We hope the University and the Task Force refocus on addressing ongoing issues that more genuinely affect the well-being of many students on this campus in order to achieve a more equitable Harvard.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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