Dear Members of the Harvard Chan School Community,
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what unites us.
Earlier this year, we completed work on new vision and mission statements for Harvard Chan School. Hundreds of students, staff, faculty, and researchers participated in the process. The words they drafted are simple, yet tremendously powerful: We work toward a world with health, dignity, and justice for every human being.
It can be hard to focus on our commonalities when divisive, inflammatory rhetoric dominates social media. When people across Harvard and around the world are targeted by vile acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia. When voicing an opinion or even asking a question feels risky, lest we use the wrong word and spark a backlash.
But it is in this moment that our common purpose matters more than ever.
Members of our community come from different backgrounds, hold different identities and views, and have differing degrees of power and responsibility. Each of us likely has our own ideas about how to achieve a better world.
But we are all working toward that shared vision. And we all choose Harvard Chan School as a place to advance that work. As a member of this community for 25 years, I believe in my core that this common purpose has power.
I know many of you continue to feel heartache, stress, and anger from the attacks on Israel, the bombardment of Gaza, and the reverberations of this conflict on campus. I’m writing this note to update you on what we’re doing to address these concerns, to invite your suggestions — and to urge us all to draw strength from our common purpose.
Protecting safety and well-being
One of my core responsibilities as Interim Dean is the safety and well-being of all members of our community. We have gathered important campus resources for mental health support and physical and digital safety here. Please also review the wide-ranging resources offered at the University level.
Another responsibility is to protect the free exchange of ideas. Free expression is a critical foundation of academic excellence. It’s also essential to building a diverse and inclusive community. Protecting speech that some members of our community find offensive or harmful can be a difficult balancing act.
So let me make clear our bedrock values: As an institution, we will not tolerate hate speech, discrimination, or threats to personal safety. We will protect reasoned dissent and peaceful protest.
We will continue to value the free exchange of ideas that do not cross the line of hate speech, even when those ideas make us uncomfortable. And we will expect those ideas to be shared in a spirit of respect and recognition of our common purpose.
Introducing our Principles of Citizenship
How does that common purpose translate into individual actions?
Over the past six months, a group of staff, students, faculty, and researchers have drafted the Harvard Chan Principles of Citizenship. These are foundational expectations for how we engage with one another — applicable to all members of our community.
The Harvard Chan Principles of Citizenship call on us to treat one another with respect and kindness, especially when we disagree. To recognize that our words and our actions have impacts on other people. To hold ourselves and one another accountable for making our contributions positive. To listen. To learn. To acknowledge mistakes. To persevere together.
These principles may sound simplistic. Yet if we hold them in mind as we grapple with each new challenge, I truly believe we can shape a more inclusive and pluralistic community.
I have been moved by my conversations with students, staff, and faculty in recent weeks, and I have thought a lot about what makes a strong and supportive culture. I envision a community where we do not prejudge one another or make assumptions about one another’s views based on identity. Where we take care to listen intently, disagree respectfully, and engage productively. Where we extend one another grace and empathy, understanding that we must work together to build a world where everyone can thrive.
Please take time in the coming days to read the Principles of Citizenship and think about how you can apply them in your daily life at Harvard Chan School. And please share your feedback. This is a living document, very much open to revision.
Strengthening capacity for dialogue across differences
In my first community message of the academic year, I talked about building our collective capacity to engage in effective dialogue on difficult and polarizing topics.
To that end, we’ve introduced new resources on academic freedom and free expression and we’re working to bring in educational programs. We’re also planning events to reinforce our common purpose, including another Community Day of Service next month. This will be an
opportunity to come together as a community to contribute to our shared vision of a world with health, dignity, and justice for all.
It is an honor and a privilege to work alongside all of you. I’m so grateful for all that you bring to this community and the field of public health, and so proud of all that we accomplish together.
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