Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana defended the College’s decision to begin charging students for Commencement housing in an interview Friday.
In late April, Harvard informed student group leaders they would have to pay $45 per night for each student they planned to grant extended housing — an option that was previously free. The announcement came just four days ahead of the May 1 application deadline.
Several student groups criticized the decision, which the school said was made to allow Harvard to provide meals to students, citing concerns in previous years over a lack of access to food.
Khurana defended the policy but acknowledged student concerns around the short timeline.
“It’s a very complex undertaking, and perhaps more complex than we maybe even initially anticipated,” Khurana said of the new policy. “We felt that it was important before this summer started — knowing what we had learned and heard from students about the importance of addressing the issues of food insecurity — that we address it this summer and not let it go for one more summer.”
In response to The Crimson’s reporting that some clubs had considered canceling their Commencement plans in light of the new policy, Khurana underscored that financial aid is available, and that students can reach out to the school with specific concerns.
“We recognize that this change, as with any change, can be a little bit disruptive to plans. We are trying to minimize that by having clear places for people to contact for questions,” Khurana said.
Khurana also expressed a muted reaction to a Crimson report that the Dean of Students Office is considering a proposal to temporarily freeze the creation of new undergraduate clubs. The DSO website states that the College has more than 500 student organizations, a number which Khurana said the school is seeking to verify.
“The accuracy of that is important for us,” Khurana said, deferring further questions to the DSO.
Khurana also addressed the following topics:
Earlier this month, Khurana announced that he had selected Harvard Kennedy School professor Erica Chenoweth and their wife Zoe Marks, an HKS lecturer in public policy, to serve as the faculty deans of Pforzheimer House beginning July 1.
“Erica and Zoe were so excited about the opportunity of living among and with the students and building on what is already an excellent house,” said Khurana, who made the final decision in conjunction with advice from House affiliates, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean and President-elect Claudine Gay, and president Lawrence S. Bacow.
“When I received the comments from the students and tutors, staff who were on the search committee, what stood out for me was how people expressed their capacity to listen,” Khurana said of Chenoweth and Marks. “In particular, they emphasized a humanity and a desire, a real intent to listen — to understand rather than think about what to say next.”
Khurana attended a meeting last month with representatives of Black student organizations and other top administrators to discuss the University’s response to an April swatting attack that sent armed police to a Leverett House suite occupied by four Black students.
The meeting came after dozens of Black student organizations penned a letter to Harvard administrators outlining a list of demands, including a meeting with University leadership.
Khurana acknowledged the effects of the attack and said the College is focused on student well-being.
“Our goal as a Harvard community is to ensure the well-being of every student,” Khurana said. “I know it was a painful incident for the students who are impacted, but it had ripples beyond not only the impacted students or the students in one house, and beyond even the college.”
Although students present at the meeting said their demands were not met, Khurana said the College has plans to improve.
“The College committed to listen, and then from there learn and do better.”
With the Harvard College class of 2023 set to graduate later this month, Khurana expressed admiration for their resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is a group of students who took every version of the way we could possibly offer classes,” Khurana said of the graduating class. “They had to adapt and pivot. They had to figure out how to build community outside of the Harvard structure and then rebuild and renew it when they came back. They had to be a bridge of restarting student organizations. They also found ways to sort of think about new traditions and new ideas for their communities.”
“It’s really a remarkable group of students, and I’m very excited for them and their families and friends to celebrate what they’ve accomplished,” he added.
In early April, the Harvard Undergraduate Queer Advocates launched a petition requesting increased access to gender-inclusive restrooms in major academic and residential buildings on campus.
In the interview Friday, Khurana underscored the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms as a priority as the school undergoes renovations and new construction.
“The College is committed to ensuring that every space that we have — academic, social, residential — feels inclusive to every member of our community. As we’ve been doing house renewal, we’ve really been trying to ensure a philosophy of inclusive design and universal design,” Khurana said.
“I think we’ve made some progress over the last few years, but there’s more work to do to make sure things are not only available, but that they’re convenient and provide the privacy and dignity every single individual deserves,” he added.
Correction: May 10, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that May 1 was the payment deadline for extended stay housing. In fact, May 1 was the application deadline.
—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SellersHill.
—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @nia_orakwue.