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Last week, when the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging announced that it would hold a competition to replace “Till the stock of the Puritans die” in Harvard’s alma mater, it set its sights high.
The latest in a series of initiatives to address some of Harvard’s historic symbols, the new lyrics would “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 the lofty goals came national attention; The New York Times wrote that the University was affirming “its commitment to inclusion,” while a Fox News segment harshly criticized the change as the latest example of ridiculous symbolic changes at higher education institutions.
But for some Harvard students, the change is largely inconsequential. More than a dozen students contacted for this story said they were not at all familiar with the lyrics to “Fair Harvard” or the competition to replace the words in the final line.
“People don’t really know about it,” said Anna Mazur ’20.
Performed during Freshmen Convocation and Commencement ceremonies, “Fair Harvard” is not a major part of student life at the College, and some students said they were not particularly affected by the change.
Aren G. Rendell ’19 said he “did not know this was happening,” but that the change did not strike him as particularly objectionable.
“I think the institution is no longer a Puritan one per se, so I see the reasoning behind the change. I’m neither for nor against it at this point,” he said.
Others, however, were critical of the University’s decision to change the lyrics of the song. Jonathan S. Roberts ’17 said that Harvard should be focusing on more concrete measures, like offering a pre-orientation program for first generation and low-income students, to make the University more inclusive. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana recently rejected such a program.
“It feels very contradictory,” he said. “It’s very hard to believe that the College cares more than nominally about inclusivity and belonging on campus when we’re rejecting a first-gen program.”
“Changing the name of a song does very little to impact my experience here,” Roberts added.
Emily M. Hall ’18, who denounced the change during a Fox News segment, also said Harvard should be focusing its energy on different topics.
“I think that Harvard has so many more important things that it could be focusing its resources on,” she said. “I’m not sure why it has decided that this is so important.”
To be sure, the committee will take on more than just song lyrics. In September, University President Drew G. Faust charged the committee with investigating four areas of life at Harvard: demographics of faculty, staff, and students across the University, the “fabric of the institution” and its cultures, academic resources for students, and diversity groups at Harvard.
At a Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting in March, chair of the committee Danielle Allen, a government professor, said that the group was just beginning its work. In an op-ed published in The Crimson Sunday, Allen announced an online tool—called the “Solution Space”—that allows Harvard affiliates to submit ideas for “advancing Harvard toward inclusion” and upvote others’ “solutions.”
“We’ve been working to diagnose obstacles to academic, and social integration. Most importantly, though, we call upon the wisdom of our colleagues throughout the campus,” Allen said at the meeting. “Soon the task force will pivot from the discovery phase to developing solutions. At the moment, the focus is very much still on listening and discovery.”
In an email, Eduardo A. Gonzalez ’18 wrote that he supported the change, adding Harvard changed the lyrics in 1998 to replace the word “sons” in the lyrics.
“If all students are meant to take pride in this song, it should reflect all of them,” Gonzales wrote.
Alex Z. Zhang ’20, who is “personally not that aware of the history” of the song, also said he could see potential benefits and drawbacks to Harvard’s decision to change the lyrics.
“I think adhering too strongly to ideas of symbolism and adhering too strongly to tradition is harmful,” he said.
Harvard affiliates will be able to submit ideas for new lyrics to “Fair Harvard” on the task force’s website through September. The task force will announce winners of the competition in spring 2018.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
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