Campus & Community

FAS launches task force to examine visual culture and signage

Critical look at campus landscape among charges to create inclusive spaces

5 min read
Dunster House.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Claudine Gay, the Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), announced on Wednesday that FAS will form a task force comprised of faculty, students, and staff to examine the College’s visual culture and develop a framework in which to create more inclusive imagery across the campus.

“How and where we memorialize individuals, events, and moments in our institutional history through imagery and symbols should reflect our core institutional commitments to truth, knowledge, and critical thinking,” Gay said in a message to the community. “At the same time, they should authentically represent the possibility inherent in our present moment and encourage the sense of welcome and belonging each of us needs to feel seen, heard, and able to thrive.”

The Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage in FAS Spaces is charged with researching and providing informed guidance, new ideas, and recommendations to foster a more inclusive culture across dormitories, administrative buildings, meeting rooms, classrooms, and recreational, social, and study areas. Its recommendations may affect imagery such as signage, photographs, monuments, and portraits.

“When we talk about visual culture, we talk about what we see in our environment, in our classrooms, in the Houses, in the dining halls,” said Dean of Arts and Humanities Robin Kelsey, who will lead the task force. “There’s a very powerful communication in what is on our walls. It’s a communication about what we think Harvard is, who we think Harvard is, where we’ve been, where we are, and where we would like to go.”

Kelsey, also the Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, is an award-winning scholar who has been studying visual culture for decades. The 21-person task force includes faculty representation from each academic division and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Student representatives were drawn from Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

“The task force represents a lot of different constituencies within the Harvard community. I’m hopeful that we have a diverse representation of this committee and a great set of voices. That said, we’re also going to be reaching out and doing a lot of listening to other members of the community,” said Kelsey.

“There’s a very powerful communication in what is on our walls. It’s a communication about what we think Harvard is, who we think Harvard is, where we’ve been, where we are, and where we would like to go.”

Robin Kelsey

The task force’s work includes creating a comprehensive inventory of current signage in community spaces. Another priority will be to produce a set of guidelines, best practices, and recommendations for improving visual culture and imagery in these spaces, and outline the resources available to FAS units that want to take active roles in the initiative. Those with thoughts and ideas for the task force can also write to them at

“The work ahead belongs not only to this task force, but is a common project that belongs to us all,” Gay said.

This effort is part of the FAS’s anti-racism agenda, which Gay unveiled in late August. Other initiatives included naming Sheree Ohen as FAS’s first associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and belonging; restarting a search for four new senior faculty in ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration (EIM); expanding the Inequality in America postdoctoral fellowship program; and setting up a study of racial diversity at the senior staff level.

Ohen will serve on the task force along with Shelby Acteson, associate director of University Disability Resources; Jennifer Allen, director of collections management at Harvard Art Museums; Lowell Brower, lecturer on folklore and mythology; Dan Byers, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts; Teju Cole, Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing; Philip Deloria, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History; Sarah Duncan, manager of IT operations at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Maryellen Fitzgibbon, senior planner at the Office of Physical Resources and Planning; Adriana Gallegos, manager of administrative operations at Harvard Library; Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History; James Mathew ’21, president of the Undergraduate Council; Michael McGarrah, vice president of the Graduate Student Council; Ian Miller, professor of history and faculty dean of Cabot House; Venkatesh Murthy, Raymond Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology; Sandra Naddaff, senior lecturer in comparative literature and dean of Harvard Summer School; Jane Pickering, William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology; Veronica Santana, assistant director of diversity, inclusion, and belonging at SEAS; Sheila Thimba, dean of administration and finance at Harvard College; Alexis Turner, president of the Graduate Student Council; and Ifeoma (Ify) E. White-Thorpe ’21, vice president of the Undergraduate Council.