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Dear President Bacow,
As newly-admitted students to the Harvard College Class of 2024, we would first like to express our immense gratitude and excitement in joining the Harvard community. The chance to live and learn at Harvard in the near future has been a light amidst these otherwise uncertain and unprecedented circumstances.
We would also like to thank you for introducing us to Harvard through the Virtual Visitas programming. During your welcome speech, you had indicated that if on-campus learning remains unsafe in the fall, Harvard would begin the upcoming term online, and this sentiment was mirrored by University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 in the statement released Monday. We would like to respectfully express our desire that the Harvard 2020-2021 fall semester be postponed rather than held online. Though we recognize the immense challenges and difficulty in deciding the fate of our fall semester, we sincerely hope you take our thoughts into account.
As first-year students, we have yet to establish meaningful in-person relationships with classmates, faculty, advisors, and other mentors who will facilitate the transition to Harvard. The fall semester, for many of us, will be our first introduction to college-level courses. Adjusting to college academics and social life is challenging under normal circumstances, and starting the upcoming semester online would make this transition more difficult. Aside from simply introducing us to campus life, we have also been told that the first-year fall semester is one of the most formative periods in our four years at Harvard. We would truly appreciate the opportunity to experience it in its entirety as previous classes have.
We are also especially concerned with how an online semester will impact various disadvantaged members of our class, particularly those who are coming from first-generation or low-income backgrounds, struggling with learning difficulties, lacking sufficient access to technology, residing in different time zones, and/or living in unstable households. We fear that beginning instruction online would exacerbate inequalities existing among members of our class and may have long-lasting effects. In contrast, Harvard’s on-campus resources help level the playing field, allowing all students to fully engage in the learning process.
As students, we have noticed a rise in anxiety and depression that has adversely affected the academic performance and well-being of ourselves and our high school classmates since the introduction of online learning. Requiring incoming students to begin new and rigorous course loads under already emotionally turbulent circumstances may intensify these challenges to our mental health.
Though we would prefer a delayed in-person semester over an online one, we acknowledge the financial implications of a postponement and thus support spending decisions that benefit all members of the Harvard community. In particular, we value concerns regarding the impact a delayed semester could have on Harvard employees’ salaries. We hope that, regardless of what academic schedule is ultimately chosen, the administration takes measures to continue prioritizing the financial security of its faculty and staff. As for students, we would also like to emphasize the importance of certain financial aid resources — including medical insurance — to address needs during time off-campus.
While we all hope for classes to resume on campus as usual in the fall, we recognize that Harvard must comply with public health directives and look out for the safety of its students and employees. Should a contingency plan be needed, we hope you will take the Class of 2024 into account and consider postponing the fall semester instead of conducting it online. In the worst case, if the University finds it unavoidable to conduct another online semester, we hope that there will be consistent discourse between the administration and students to ensure a smooth transition. Regardless of the outcome, we trust that Harvard’s administration will act in our best interests, and we will, of course, support any final decision.
Concerned Students of the Harvard College Class of 2024
Laila A. Nasher, Jane J. Oh, and Kendall I. Shields are members of Harvard’s incoming Class of 2024. Additional contributors to the op-ed can be found here.
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