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Editorials

With New Task Forces, Harvard May Finally Have Found Its Spine

Then-University Provost Alan M. Garber '76 speaks at the opening ceremony of the Hate Ends Now touring exhibit in April 2023.
Then-University Provost Alan M. Garber '76 speaks at the opening ceremony of the Hate Ends Now touring exhibit in April 2023. By Claire Yuan
By The Crimson Editorial Board
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.

After months of inadequacy, the University has finally signaled that it might fix its approach to the hate that continues to plague both Jewish and Arab students.

Interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76 recently announced the creation of two task forces, one dedicated to combating antisemitism and the other to combating Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.

These changes appear a step in the right direction. We hope they indicate that the University finally means to seriously challenge all of the forms of hate that threaten our community.

From the beginning of the leadership crisis through University President Claudine Gay’s resignation, Harvard’s top brass clung to an approach to opposing vitriol that failed time and time again.

Terrified of controversy, University leadership twisted itself into knots to avoid confronting hate head-on. It tossed word salad statement after word salad statement instead of saying what it meant. It treated anti-Arab and antisemitic hate as unrelated and, by ignoring the former as doxxing ran rampant, deepened campus divides.

Indeed, our top leaders could not even muster the moral courage to acknowledge anti-Palestinian hate in a University-wide email.

While it remains to be seen whether these task forces will make a meaningful difference, their creation may at least mark the University beginning to find the spine required to call hate what it is and defend its students.

On announcement of the task forces, however, the University faced reprobation from many familiar critics for naming professor Derek J. Penslar one of the antisemitism task force’s two co-chairs.

Somehow, Penslar — an eminent professor of Jewish history and the director of Harvard’s Center for Jewish Studies — stands accused of being unfit to lead a group intended to study and respond to antisemitism.

Patently, he is not. Penslar is eminently qualified for the role, and we support Garber’s choice to tap Harvard’s top scholars to respond to this complex issue — a welcome departure from an administration known for ham-handed public statements. Garber does this new task force a service by giving it a co-chair in Penslar with the expertise to guide it with care and nuance.

Still, the risk of replacing one toothless task force with two is not lost on us. The University must ensure that both groups actually impact the lives of students.

That begins with transparency. Harvard affiliates know all too well how important initiatives can find themselves shunted to committees whose only real contribution is to then create another committee.

To avert that fate, these new task forces should hold themselves to communicating their goals, the actions they take, and the progress they achieve. They should also take care to solicit a diversity of student opinions — these committees exist to serve students, after all — and extend tangible support to students still facing hatred on campus.

Finally, to put to bed once and for all the divisive notion that the fights against antisemitism and anti-Arab racism are mutually exclusive, these task forces should strive to work in close collaboration, seeking opportunities to work together on these complexly related issues.

After months of vacillation, Garber’s new task forces are a first step toward bridging the divides in our community. But they are just that: a first step.

Until we see real change, Garber has his work cut out for him.

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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