University President Drew G. Faust defended race-conscious admissions practices in front of what she said is the most diverse class of freshmen in Harvard’s history at the College’s convocation on Tuesday.
The annual ceremony, which welcomes incoming freshmen to campus, began with the usual fanfare: bright-eyed freshmen parading around the Yard to the marching band’s tune.
But it soon took a serious turn, as Faust and other administrators spoke of the need to stand up for the University’s commitment to diversity in the face of mounting threats.
An anti-affirmative action group is suing Harvard, arguing that its admissions policies discriminate against Asian American applicants. Just last month, the Justice Department announced it would investigate a complaint by a coalition of Asian-American associations that makes similar claims about racial discrimination.
“We will continue to fervently defend our admissions processes, and the importance of diversity as essential to our educational philosophy,” Faust told freshmen.
Faust also used convocation as an opportunity to condemn final clubs, to loud applause, calling them “discriminatory, exclusionary, overwhelmingly homogeneous organizations” that are “antithetical to our values and educational goals.”
Faust, who will step down from the presidency in June 2018, defended the University’s efforts to crack down on the clubs under her purview—arguing that a policy sanctioning members of the class of 2021 who join single-gender social organizations advances Harvard’s commitment to diversity.
“This new policy is motivated by the same commitment to providing an educational experience that affirms the importance of every student at Harvard, and urges students to learn from classmates unlike themselves,” she said.
A faculty committee recommended a more far-reaching policy in July, and Faust will have to approve any revisions to the current policy before they can take effect.
In her speech Tuesday, Faust also alluded to divisions that have plagued the country since the election of President Donald Trump last November.
“You are coming to Harvard at a critical time, for our country and for our University,” she told freshmen. “In the face of proliferating incidents of hatred and violence across the country, we need to insist on a different way of being together. Let us strive to be a model of unity at a time of fracture and divisiveness.”
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana also referenced the tumultuous political climate in his address. He spoke of protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists violently clashed with counter-protesters earlier this month, adding that a recent hurricane in Texas has also sparked national anxiety.
“The plight of those in the Houston area, divisions in the country, divisions in the world, the re-emergence of dark, nihilistic ideologies of racial and ethnic superiority, challenges to the planet give what you are going to do here with your lives a sense of urgency,” he said. “We have never needed your talents, your energy, your commitment more than we do right now.”
Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith also addressed students. Marcus K. Granderson ’18 delivered the student salutation, advising freshmen to chart their own paths and keep in mind that “you will always be enough.”
The Harvard Glee Club, the Radcliffe Choral Society, the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College performed during the ceremony.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
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