Note: A few details from this message that were relevant only for members of the HKS community have been removed.

To the Kennedy School Community,

Like many of you, I am feeling profound sadness and deep anger about the brutal killing of George Floyd—and of so many other black Americans. I grieve along with many people, many of whom have of course suffered much more from the fear and pain generated by racism than I or my family have. I hope we have come to a long-overdue time of change. One comfort I have found is the many people—some in positions of formal authority, and many not—who have stood up to promise that black lives matter and that we must transform our economic, political, and social systems to fulfill that promise. The Kennedy School is committed to doing its part.

As I wrote in my message at the beginning of the second semester in late January, we at the Kennedy School need to do more teaching and learning about institutional racism so we can fight it more effectively, and we need to do more to address racism on our own campus. In my message last Saturday, I reminded us that we have both a responsibility and an opportunity to help overcome racism and create a more just society, and that we need to do so with urgency.

Let me summarize now some of the actions we are taking at the Kennedy School to meet our responsibility and seize our opportunity—both to create a more fair and inclusive campus community, and to help create a more just world. Some of these activities have been under development for a while, and others are being started now in response to the events of the past two weeks.

I want to emphasize: These activities are only a beginning. We have much work to do on our journey, and everyone’s ideas and commitment will be needed. But I want to tell you now what is already underway so that you can participate fully and can offer your own perspectives on what is needed next.

Community Gatherings and Other Events

To begin, let us support each other during this very difficult time. I urge us all to be compassionate with each other and with ourselves. If you want someone to talk with, please reach out to our colleagues in Degree Programs and Student Affairs (for students), Human Resources (for staff), the Academic Deans’ Office (for faculty), the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, the Harvard Chaplains, and the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Services.

Robbin Chapman (our Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging) and I will be hosting four Community Conversations next week, so that we can gather together to discuss racial bias and injustice and ways we can more effectively combat racism. To make the conversations as meaningful as possible, we will begin each session in a large group but quickly break into smaller groups. My personal goal in these conversations will be to listen and learn what we can do together to overcome racism and what I can do myself to lead the Kennedy School as effectively as possible at this time. We hope you can attend one of these sessions.

In addition, Robbin Chapman will be holding daily office hours.

We have been focusing the Dean’s Discussions series on COVID this semester, and we are extending those discussions through the summer. I will send a full schedule next week. Here I want to mention that we will have a discussion on “Race and the Pandemic.”

A number of our research centers are also developing more programming focused on race and public policy and leadership. For example, the Carr Center held a conversation on Wednesday about the history of racist policing, and on June 9, from 12 to 1 pm EDT, the Ash Center will be hosting a discussion on black lives, protest, and democracy with members of our faculty and guests.

Moreover, working with students, the Center for Public Leadership, Institute of Politics, and Women and Public Policy Program are partnering to launch “Teach-in Summer”—a summer of listening, learning, and galvanizing our Kennedy School community to action. Former IOP fellow and current CPL and WAPPP fellow LaTosha Brownhas kindly agreed to help launch this effort with a conversation about how to transform the energy from peaceful protests into sustained political engagement and policy development. Additional information will be forthcoming shortly.

Our Library and Knowledge Services team, the Shorenstein Center’s Initiative for Institutional Anti-racism and Accountability, and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (ODIB) have collaborated to curate a reading list on racial justice, racial equity, and anti-racism. ODIB will also be posting soon to its Knet page a list of targeted resources for our community.

Our Campus Community

One of our core values at the Kennedy School is belief in the worth of each person regardless of their race and other characteristics. To hold true to that value—and for the sake of all of our staff members, students, and faculty—we need to make our work and learning together as fair as possible. That means overcoming racism here.

We are accountable for bringing to the School people who can contribute the most to our mission, and that requires us to look beyond typical hiring or recruiting channels and beyond typical criteria that do not reflect our true needs. We are also accountable for creating and sustaining climates of work and learning that are free from racism and other forms of discrimination and disrespect, and that requires us to learn better how to engage with each other. This accountability is important as we bring staff, students, and faculty to join the Kennedy School and as we collaborate in our activities, so we will be talking more about this subject in the coming months.


For our students, Professor Khalil Muhammad will lead a plenary session this summer on racism and the coronavirus pandemic. The timing is forthcoming; this session is one element of a large collection of new summer seminars and workshops that we are offering to returning and incoming students.

Faculty members are creating a new, required, immersive course on race and public policy for all incoming MPP1 students for the fall. In addition, we know of nearly 20 other courses that will be offered next year in which race is an important element (see the attached list), and faculty members are discussing additional ways to strengthen the treatment of race in our curriculum.

Moreover, our SLATE (Strengthening Learning and Teaching Excellence) program has been working with faculty members to create additional case studies that address diversity and to promote inclusion in the classroom and enable constructive discussions on difficult issues. We are also developing new approaches to orientation, part of which will involve helping students to learn across differences.

Research and Outreach

More than a dozen members of our faculty teach or conduct research and outreach regarding race. Their areas of focus include history, education, democracy, human rights, health care, leadership, and criminal justice. Through their analysis and the dissemination of that analysis, these faculty members are changing the way that public leaders and officials think about race when addressing public issues.

A few examples of faculty publications in this area include Leah Wright Rigueur’s “The History and Progress of Black Citizenship,” Erica Chenoweth’s “The Science of Contemporary Street Protest,”  Marshall Ganz’s “Renewing Democracy Requires the Creation of an Inclusive Collective,” and Maya Sen’s “How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics.” These colleagues and others are doing so much work that deserves close examination and appreciation (as you can see from the attached list of selected recent publications on advocacy and social movements, fairness and justice, and gender, race, and identity). But you can get a sample of our faculty’s activities by checking the“Fairness & Justice” policy page on our public website and by reading the daily HKS in the News. In addition, please visit our weekly newsletter on current topics (with past issues and a subscription link at the bottom of this page).

I also want to draw your attention to our research centers, which support many initiatives and projects related to race and public policy and leadership and can be resources for us all. Examples include the William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the Center for Public Leadership, led by Cornell Brooks; the Initiative for Institutional Anti-racism and Accountability at the Shorenstein Center, led by Khalil Muhammad; the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at the Wiener Center, to be led by Sandra Smith when she joins us next month; and the Fellowship for Serving African American Communities at CPL.

As I wrote at the start of this message, these activities are only a beginning, and we have much work to do together. I look forward to your ideas for other actions we should take.

I am very grateful to be part of a group of people who care so deeply about making the Kennedy School and the world better. Please stay as well and safe as you can.

With my best wishes,

Douglas W. Elmendorf
Dean and Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy