As Wednesday, Dec. 10 wore on, University President Drew G. Faust was worried about how Harvard’s infamous Primal Scream tradition, a pre-exam naked lap around Harvard Yard scheduled for that night, would unfold.
“I was anxious about [Primal Scream] in advance, because we heard that there was going to be this merging of two very separate agendas, and I was afraid that people were going to end up in some kind of confrontation,” Faust said in her final sit-down interview of the year with The Crimson on Tuesday.
A group of about 30 students protesting the non-indictments of two white police officers who killed unarmed black men in Staten Island, NY. and Ferguson, Mo. tried to hold a moment of silence prior to the run, but most of the runners did not comply. Many left the event questioning the actions of the protesters, runners, and two dozen college administrators who kept the peace.
Harvard’s president, who did not attend Primal Scream, credited Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana for ensuring that serious conflict did not materialize.
“I think Rakesh did a great job of deflecting people in an absolutely physical way, having people go different directions and not crash into each other,” Faust said on Tuesday.
The campus protests that have unfolded during the last month have stopped traffic and inspired heated discussions. And yet those demonstrations are just the latest chapter in a year of campus conversations about sexual assault, faculty dissent over changes to health benefits plans, significant turnover at the top rungs of Harvard’s leadership, and a University-wide fundraising drive.
In the past, Faust has said that it is not within the president’s role to comment on public issues unrelated to Harvard’s mission. But as demonstrations on campus and around the country continued to increase in scale in recent weeks, the Harvard president and Civil War historian said she decided to make an exception.
“Black lives matter. It has taken far too long to make that fundamental truth a living, essential part of the fabric of our society, our government, and our lives,” Faust said in a statement on Dec. 9. “Martin Luther King, Jr. made clear a half century ago why we can’t wait. What was urgent then is imperative now.”
Speaking with The Crimson this week, Faust recalled, as she has before, her own freshman year at Bryn Mawr College in 1965, when she skipped her spring term midterms and drove to Selma, Ala. to join voting rights demonstrations. That experience, she said, has come back to her again in the last month.
“I felt tremendous admiration for those who said ‘we must do something’ and ‘we must affirm that we care about justice and equality and opportunity, and we oppose racism and inequality and injustice,’” Faust said, referencing a speech by Pusey Minister in Memorial Church Jonathan L. Walton. “And so I said something.”
Her four-sentence statement received some backlash from students, who expressed frustration at what they considered its short length compared to a more than 300-word statement on a planned “Black Mass” on campus last spring.
“I meant it to be a very powerful statement,” Faust said. “I think less can sometimes be more, something that is succinct and makes your point. If you go on and on, you sometimes weaken the force of it.”