“Minneapolis Affects Us All”— A letter from Dean Sarah M. Whiting*

Congratulations to all, especially our Class of 2020, for finishing out the academic year with the flourish of a truly memorable Commencement yesterday. While this week has been filled with mirth for so many, it has been marred by violence and injustice for others across our country, pain of various forms that directly and indirectly affects countless among us. As we celebrate our GSD community, it is equally imperative that we pause to acknowledge the events of racial violence and degradation that were permitted to take place in this week.

The death of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis has resurfaced a national conversation about race in America. His murder, coupled with other racially charged occurrences this week, has reminded us that race textures the American experience. As a community of shared values, the GSD strives to recognize diverse perspectives and experiences, and to create spaces for them and their stories; this is an integral part of our mission as a design school. I asked our graduates yesterday to go out and lead the conversations that unite us as global citizens. This conversation happening right now across the country is one that needs all of our voices, and needs it now.

The GSD teaches students how to shape our world, engaging not only buildings, technologies, infrastructures, landscapes, and spaces, but also what it means for us to live together in the world. The death of Mr. Floyd and the events of this week have been tragic, with implications for every corner of our community and for each of our disciplines. It is important that while we have been forced to reframe what community looks like spatially in the face of COVID-19, we never lose sight of what community should feel like. No element or facet of your design work is too small or too isolated to impact our broader world.

As designers and as citizens of the world, I urge you to recognize and acknowledge the injustices that remain so persistent and so ingrained across our globe, and I ask you always to take the time to consider how the work we do as designers impacts how we live together.

In this moment, and as we move forward, I ask that you recognize and talk with one another about the different experiences, the different forms of pain and of understanding, that people may feel given what we’re seeing in the news and on social media. I recognize that the recent events may cause additional emotional distress and anxiety, and I urge you to be in touch with either Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services or the Harvard Employee Assistance Program if you need assistance.

I so look forward to us all uniting again and continuing our work: educating and inspiring leaders who will create a more resilient, more beautiful, and more just world.

With respect and reflection,


*This posting has been modified slightly from the original in response to criticism from a student who questioned the lack of reference to Mr. Floyd as black or as African American. I appreciate and acknowledge that criticism.