Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds cited the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to deliver a message about kindness and community during Morning Prayers at Appleton Chapel. Hammonds, the Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies, said that students should stretch beyond their comfort zones to make Harvard a truly inclusive place, and argued that the College’s new “Class of 2015 Pledge” was an important part of the effort to encourage them to do so.
Hammonds said that the beginning of the academic year was a time of renewal for those in academia. She noted that one of the changes at Harvard this year was the introduction of a voluntary pledge that asks freshmen “to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society,” and to place “the exercise of kindness … on par with intellectual attainment.”
Hammonds acknowledged that some in the Harvard community are uncomfortable with the pledge, but she argued forcefully for the idea behind it. “It is important for us to think about how we live together in the most diverse community of students, scholars, and staff that most of us have ever lived in,” she said. “Living amidst such diversity poses many challenges.”
To illustrate her point, Hammonds referenced King’s concept of the beloved community. “We are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” she said, quoting King. “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribes, our class, and our nation …”
Hammonds said that the work of building community is often uncomfortable, and acknowledged that she herself sometimes feels out of her “comfort zone,” but said that it was precisely this awkwardness that created a need for “many ways and venues to talk about what we expect of each other.” She said that the “Class of 2015 Pledge” was a small, but important tool for facilitating this dialogue.
“Asking freshmen — and reminding all the rest of us — that this is a community where kindness and respect are valued on par with intellectual endeavors seems to me, at the end of the day, a small thing to ask,” she said. “For diverse communities to function well and to ensure that every person feels valued requires the exercise of kindness.”
The Rev. Dorothy A. Austin, associate minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University and chaplain to the University, presided over Morning Prayers. Austin — who is also co-master of Lowell House — led parishioners in a responsive reading from the Old Testament’s Book of Psalms, and closed the services with a benediction.