Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said safely maintaining in-person instruction and dining are the College’s top priorities this semester in a Wednesday interview.
Khurana said safeguarding the “health of our community” has informed the College’s planning since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s been our guiding principle since all of this began 18 months ago,” he said. “After that is to keep in-person education, so ensuring in-person instruction is the highest priority. Second is the good functioning of our residential system, and in particular, the importance of dining in our residential system.”
Khurana said the dining hall is the “social heartbeat” of the residential system. He added that the College’s third priority is supporting undergraduate co-curricular activities.
During the previous academic year, as the College held classes on Zoom, Harvard imposed strict restrictions on those students remaining on campus, such as limiting the number of students living on campus, closing dining halls, and forbidding indoor gatherings.
In welcoming all undergraduates back to campus this semester, the College resumed full operations, including in-person instruction, full-capacity housing, and buffet dining.
But just days after the start of the fall semester, despite a campus-wide vaccine mandate, a rise in coronavirus cases on campus led Harvard to increase the frequency of coronavirus testing for undergraduates from once per week to three times per week.
During Wednesday’s interview, Khurana urged students to stay home if they feel ill and to report any symptoms they experience through Crimson Clear, the University’s symptom screening tool.
“If you’re not feeling well, don’t go to class. We have very clear established guidelines for that,” he said. “If somebody does test positive for Covid — it must be very distressing and stressful — and the first thing I would say: ‘Don’t blame yourself. Getting sick is nobody’s fault.’”
Khurana assured students that faculty will accommodate those who test positive for Covid-19 and must enter isolation, or those who miss class for other health reasons. He noted that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has provided instructors with guidelines to prevent students in those situations from falling behind academically. To support isolating students, faculty can assign alternative coursework and record classes.
“If you feel like as a student who happens to be in isolation that you’re not getting the response you need from faculty, the resident deans can get involved,” Khurana said. “If that’s still challenging, our Dean of Undergraduate Education — please let her know — Dean [Amanda J.] Claybaugh.”
Khurana also addressed the stress students may be feeling back on campus this fall.
“It’s natural to feel anxiety and stress at this moment,” he said. “I think all of us feel like the transitions are hard, especially when you get changing guidelines.”
Khurana commended students’ adherence to Covid-19 protocols during the first month of the semester.
“I want to express my gratitude to our student community, knowing that we have the largest number of Harvard undergraduates in the history of Harvard here,” he said. “We are all tightly packed in different kinds of spaces, and yet people are finding ways of making sure we’re masking.”
“I’m grateful for the human connection that we’ve been able to restore that makes getting through those difficult times easier,” Khurana added.
—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @alexmkoller.
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.