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Letter to the Editor: Keeping Harvard's Promise

By Suzanne P. Blier, Stephen Burt, and Walter Johnson

UPDATED: Nov. 21, 2016, at 1:04 p.m.

To the Editor:

Yesterday, several of Harvard's roughly 40 courageous undocumented students and their supporters stood on the steps of Widener Library and bore witness to their fears—of exposure, of sanction, of deportation. But they also spoke of the sacrifices made by their parents and their own hard work, of the way that their own presence at Harvard represented the culmination of a larger, collective effort. It is time for the students, faculty, staff, and administration of Harvard to join them.

The Harvard University website includes a pointed statement about the University’s commitment to excellence through diversity, emphasizing “the centrality, importance and complexity of inclusive excellence in our academic and administrative endeavors, [and] the benefits of diverse learning and working environments.” The website also emphasizes the ongoing character of the University’s commitment: diversity is not simply a matter of admission. It is a matter of an enduring and democratic commitment to learning from one another. It is central to the university’s pedagogical and intellectual mission.

In ways both explicit and implicit, the president-elect of the United States has threatened that mission. Our students, colleagues, and co-workers—immigrants and Muslims and queer people and people with disabilities as well as women of various backgrounds—have some reason to fear for their safety. In the weeks, months, and years ahead, it will take steadfast commitment and sustained energy to protect the democratic inclusion and spirit of open inquiry from which this University draws its vitality.

The students who bravely stood on the steps of the library yesterday are on the front lines of that struggle. The president-elect has pledged to revoke a well-known executive order deferring deportation in the case of students in good standing. Because the original executive order allowing for those deferrals required students to register with the government, it created a guide which the new administration will be able to follow to the gates of our campus. It is imperative that we stop them there.

Therefore, the undersigned Harvard faculty call upon the President and administration of Harvard to defend the students and mission of our University by taking actions including, but not limited to the following:

1. Reaffirm the University’s commitment to creating a campus atmosphere of respect by denouncing hate speech directed at immigrant, minority, female, and LGBTQ students, employees, and faculty and by informing the campus of existing resources (such as hotlines, counseling, and legal assistance) for reporting and responding to bias or hate incidents, at Harvard and beyond.

2. Respond immediately, concretely, and clearly to the petition calling for increased administrative support for undocumented students at Harvard signed by many members of our community and delivered to Dean Khurana yesterday. We understand that Harvard may not be able to take, or may decide against, some of the steps recommended by that petition, but we believe that the students deserve a quick, clear, confident response. Unless and until Harvard hires the additional staff recommended by that petition, Harvard administrators should make clear (on posters, as well as in email, or by other public means) what offices, and what people, are charged with helping undocumented students who require legal, institutional, practical, or psychological support.

3. Declare Harvard to be a “sanctuary campus,” (in keeping with municipal laws in Cambridge, a sanctuary city), and remind the Harvard University Police as well as all faculty, staff, and administration that it is the University’s commitment to support and protect all of its students, faculty, and employees, regardless of their citizenship status, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.

4. Reaffirm current admission and financial aid policies regarding undocumented students.

5. Guarantee student privacy, in accordance with existing policy, by refusing to release information regarding citizenship status or other personal information.

6. Make clear that Harvard will use all legal and practical means at our disposal to protect all members of our community in the months and years to come.


Suzanne Preston Blier
Walter Johnson
Stephen Burt

Suzanne Preston Blier is Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies. Stephen Burt '93 is a professor of English. Walter Johnson is Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies

Between 3 p.m. and midnight on Tuesday, nearly 300 faculty members signed the letter. Signatories can be found here.

CORRECTION: Nov. 21, 2016
This article has been updated to reflect the fact that not all of Harvard's roughly 40 undocumented students were present and spoke at the rally on the steps of Widener Library.

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