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Vital Signs of Collaboration

By Megan M. Ross
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

As coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to grow, so must global cooperation.

The University announced last week that a group of Harvard scientists will collaborate with Chinese researchers over the next five years to study the coronavirus. Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley and Zhong Nanshan — the head of an expert team within China’s National Health Commission — will co-lead the team, which will focus on creating more accurate diagnostic tests, designing vaccines, and antiviral therapies, and will be largely funded by a $115 million grant from the real estate giant and Fortune Global 500 company China Evergrande group.

The transnational partnership highlights the importance of countries and institutions around the world transcending national borders to solve global crises. Though Harvard is an American institution, its role as a leader in academia and scientific research endows it with duties to people around the world. Researching coronavirus is crucial not merely because it threatens Harvard students — who now face University travel restrictions on Italy, Iran, China, and South Korea — nor because it affects Americans — which, as the six U.S. deaths suggest, it no doubt does — but because it threatens the safety of people around the world — sickening nearly 90,000 and killing over 3,000 people.

The collaboration offers Harvard the potential to continue its legacy as a leader not just in the field of public health — going all the way back to the smallpox vaccine in 1799 — as well as in global cooperation. But in the present, Harvard’s public image has faced criticism — specifically given the scrutiny it has received for accepting foreign funding, as well as funding from morally questionable private sources. This joint project offers the University an opportunity to demonstrate its institutional commitment to advancing knowledge in pursuit of positive societal transformation.

Moreover, we hope that through its involvement with the pandemic, Harvard can help take control of the social narrative of coronavirus. In light of recent racist attacks against Asians and Asian Americans from New York City to Los Angeles, whoever is helping frame the discourse around coronavirus must remain cognizant of the xenophobia that this conversation has the potential to generate. Coronavirus cannot become the object of racist rhetoric or a vehicle for racialized and xenophobic policy. The spread of such a disease must be addressed vigorously, but not at the expense of tormenting and ostracizing our neighbors.

Writing of the reports of stigma around the world related to the virus, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an email to college students, “That is not who we are at Harvard, and I ask you to join me in ensuring that everyone in our community is treated with respect and dignity.”

That call shouldn’t just concern our campus community, but the global one we are a part of and to which Harvard as an institution of knowledge production and social influence is so deeply responsible. Cooperation across borders — regardless of trade wars and whatever other sources of stigma might prevail — must continue. We applaud Nanshan and Daley for their leadership toward that end.

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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