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Veritas for All

An update on the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging

By Danielle Allen

Last fall President Faust launched a University-wide Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging. President Faust asked Archon Fung (Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at the Kennedy School of Government), Meredith Weenick (vice president for campus services), and me to chair the Task Force. Fifty additional members of the campus community are serving alongside us. We represent all the schools on campus, central administration, and all three constituencies: students, staff, and academic personnel. We have a wide array of backgrounds, experiences, identities, religious affiliations, and viewpoints.

President Faust gave us the charge of working to understand how this campus can facilitate, for people of all backgrounds, identities, and viewpoints, the experiences of belonging necessary to support academic and professional thriving. We seek to understand how the University can anchor values of inclusion and belonging, execute on those values, and also help each school do the same.

What exactly are the values of inclusion and belonging? As President Faust has written, “Diversity is not an incidental concern for Harvard; it is fundamental to Harvard’s mission and identity.” Education in contexts of diversity “fosters creativity, challenges settled assumptions, and helps make possible the advancement of knowledge central to our mission.”

Yet it is not enough merely to open a campus to people of all backgrounds and to recruit from a multiplicity of places. Each of us who comes to Harvard to learn, work, teach, and conduct research brings academic and professional aspirations. Social, academic, and professional isolation are hindrances to fulfilling those aspirations. If the campus can’t support the flourishing of all, we make good neither on the promise of diversity nor on the promises made to each new member of the community.

The goal of the Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging is to clarify the obstacles that currently exist on our campus to experiences of inclusion and belonging. The Task Force seeks to identify barriers to academic, professional, and social integration. And the Task Force seeks solutions for these.

Over the fall and winter, the Task Force has been holding listening sessions throughout campus, which also will continue throughout the spring. Last week, we sponsored an Afternoon of Engagement in Sanders Theater open to the whole University community.

As part of that event, the Task Force made two important announcements.

First, we launched an online tool, the Solution Space, so that those unable to attend an on-campus listening session can share thoughts and ideas. We invite you to participate in the conversation through this tool.

Second, we announced a competition to revise the final line of the alma mater and to create a supplementary musical variant for the alma mater, a second mode of performing it that would help expand the campus’ symbolic repertoire. The music you all know and love would continue to be the official alma mater music but a second approach to performance would also be available for use. All genres are welcome—from traditional choral music to hip hop and spoken word and electronic music.

The alma mater was revised in 1998 in order to achieve gender inclusivity. It is a living symbol used to welcome each incoming College class and to celebrate the conclusion of their journey at Commencement. The current conclusion suggests that the commitment to truth, and to being the bearer of its light, is the special province of those of Puritan stock. This is false. We therefore launch this competition in the interests of truth itself. We launch it also in order to affirm that Harvard’s motto, “Veritas,” speaks to and on behalf of all members of our community, regardless of background, identity, religious affiliation, or viewpoint.

With this competition, the Task Force affirms Harvard’s traditions while also engaging the creativity of the University community in refashioning them for the 21st century. The Task Force invites you to join us in this creative journey and to share your thoughts.

Danielle S. Allen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.

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