Nurturing a culture of engagement

Dear Members of the Harvard Chan School Community,

I am delighted that the first task I undertook as interim dean was welcoming scores of new students to campus this morning for the start of our summer session. It was wonderful to feel their energy and to hear about the varied experiences and thoughtful goals they’re bringing to their programs.

As I shift into this new role, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own goals. The word I keep returning to is “engagement.”

I don’t have to tell any of you that this is a special community—or that we do our best work when we engage deeply with one another. Yet engagement can be challenging. It can be tough to find time to participate in activities on campus. It can be hard to break through bureaucratic silos. It can be tempting to default to Zoom.

I hope to use my time as dean to nurture and support deeper engagement for all members of our community.

That doesn’t mean mandating a return to the office or adding a flurry of new obligations to the calendar. Rather, I’m eager to work with you all to curate meaningful opportunities for students, faculty, researchers, staff, and alumni to engage with one another throughout the year. We’ll be creative in designing these opportunities so that they are substantive, authentic, and fun.

I’d also like to strengthen our capacity to engage across differences. In my remarks to our new students, I urged them to seek out classmates with diverse backgrounds and different views, to open themselves to conversations that challenge their assumptions. As you all know, we can’t make progress in public health unless we can bridge divides, and this community should be a place where we can all build that skill—thoughtfully, respectfully, and in keeping with our core values of inclusivity and belonging.

Last week’s Supreme Court rulings highlight to me the importance of abiding by these core values as individuals and as an institution, especially one that is focused on improving the public’s health. I hope you all had a chance to read the University leadership’s message and watch President Claudine Gay’s short video responding to the affirmative action decision. Like the rest of the University, Harvard Chan School will comply with the Court’s decision; we also affirm the critical importance of maintaining a community that reflects and values diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.

In another decision that impacts our community, the Court ruled that a web designer has a First Amendment right to refuse to create wedding sites for same-sex couples. Members of our community, as in the world at large, may hold different views on same-sex marriage. But from my own perspective, this ruling threatens public health. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent: “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.” We know from decades of research—including work pioneered at Harvard Chan School—that societal discrimination can gravely harm health and well-being. In my view, this ruling opens the door to more bias and backlash against a community whose fundamental rights are continually being stripped away across the nation.

In my role as interim dean, I am committed to working with students, faculty, and staff to strengthen support for members of our LGBTQ+ community. This was a priority for me before the Court’s ruling, and it’s even more pressing now. I will rely on your active engagement to make progress on these and other priorities in the months ahead.

I hope you find time to relax and recharge over the summer. I look forward to seeing you on campus.


Jane J. Kim, SM ’01, PhD ’05
Interim Dean of the Faculty
Dean for Academic Affairs
K.T. Li Professor of Health Economics
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health