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Khurana Says College Preparing to Support Students in Transition to In-Person Fall

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said the College is preparing for the unique challenges of returning to a full campus this fall and is considering ways to support students in their transition to residential life.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said the College is preparing for the unique challenges of returning to a full campus this fall and is considering ways to support students in their transition to residential life. By Allison G. Lee
By Alex M. Koller and Taylor C. Peterman, Crimson Staff Writers

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in a Friday interview that the College is preparing for the unique challenges of returning to a full campus this fall and is considering ways to support students in their transition to residential life.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced last month the FAS is “expecting a full return to campus” and a return to in-person learning in fall 2021. The news was met with relief from many students.

Khurana said the College aims to invite all students to live on campus this fall and hold all courses in person.

“Our goal is to return to in-person instruction,” he said. “I think it is only prudent that we continue to plan for contingencies, but our plan is to return to full in-person education for all of our classes.”

Still, Khurana said the fall will not constitute a complete return to normalcy.

“This is going to be a transition year. This upcoming year — it’s going to be an adaptive year,” he said. “I think it would not be honoring the loss if we sort of just said, ‘2020 didn’t happen, and 2021 didn’t happen,’ and that we didn’t have lessons to learn from it.”

This past year, Harvard invited freshmen to live on campus during the fall semester and juniors and seniors to live on campus in the spring. Those plans left out most sophomores, who spent the academic year away from campus.

Gay said in an interview last month that her “greatest disappointment” regarding planning this academic year was excluding sophomores from the College’s residential plans.

“If there is a single great kind of regret, it would be that sophomores have had to stay off campus for this long,” she said.

Khurana said Friday the College is considering offering specific programming to rising sophomores and rising juniors — who have yet to experience traditional life in upperclassman houses — before the start of the fall semester.

“We’re really thinking about this as reorientation,” he said. “Faculty deans are also working on different ideas about different ways to welcome not only their rising Class of 2024, but also students who, for the Class of 2023, have not had a chance to really live in their house.”

Khurana said in Friday’s interview that the College recognizes some international students will face a unique transition to campus life.

“We are already planning for, thinking about different ways of on-ramping and onboarding our international students — not only first-year students, but also rising sophomores — recognizing that many may not have been on campus yet,” Khurana said.

Though most freshmen lived in Harvard’s dorms last semester, federal visa policies barred international freshmen from coming to campus this year. Many said their first semester of college was marred by isolation, nocturnal routines, and insufficient support from Harvard.

Before they step foot on Harvard’s campus in the fall, international sophomores must first secure visas. Some of those students said they are concerned about making the transition to college life after spending their freshman year abroad and over Zoom.

“I won’t be a freshman anymore, but I’m still as clueless as any incoming freshman,” said Nika O. Rudenko ’24, who lives in Ukraine.

Wamalwa Ochieng ’24, who studies in Kenya, said he believes international sophomores would benefit from an orientation program — similar to the one Harvard provides international freshmen at the start of their college experience.

“An orientation program for incoming sophomores who are international will be of great importance because I don’t know once I get to the U.S. where to start,” Ochieng said. “I’d want a bit of a grace period for one or two weeks to ease into American culture, adjust to everything before actually starting classes.”

Though Harvard is planning to bring back all of its students to live on campus, Rosanna Kataja ’24, who lives in Finland, said the coronavirus pandemic continues to worry her.

“Going to live abroad for the first time in this pandemic situation — as if it wasn’t already stressful moving out to other side of the Atlantic — and then now, it’s like, what if Covid comes again and we have to go back home?” Kataja said.

In addition to managing the transition back to in-person learning, the College will also have to integrate an unusually large freshman class this fall. This application cycle, the College admitted a full class of students, who will join the 349 students accepted to the Class of 2024 who deferred their admissions.

Khurana said that though the large class size may present some “logistical challenges,” he believes having more students in the Class of 2025 will in fact benefit campus life.

“We all have an opportunity to transform as an institution and benefit from this talent,” he said. “Maybe things will feel a little bit more crowded and lines will be a little bit longer, but I’ll take that any day in order to have the full range of talent and just the sparkle that each student brings to this campus.”

For all Harvard affiliates, Khurana said the fall semester will mark a “psychological transition” after an unprecedented year.

“We want to have a very respectful way of allowing people to come back and integrate into the community in a way that feels healthy and right to them,” he said. “We’re mindful that, for many people, being in large groups is gonna be the first time they’re seeing people.”

—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at alex.koller@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexmkoller.

—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at taylor.peterman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.

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