October 28, 2020

To the Harvard Kennedy School Community,

Elections offer choices, and in doing so they can heighten tensions between people who have different understandings of how the world is and different views of how the world should be. The United States is especially polarized today, which makes tensions much higher than usual. Because we at the Kennedy School are particularly focused on public challenges and public leaders, I expect that the tensions of the election are even more acute here than in many other places. 

I do not think that people at the Kennedy School should care less about this election for national and local leaders than they do. Indeed, I share the view of many observers that this election is unusually consequential, and I would be disappointed if people here did not care deeply about the outcome—and vote if you are eligible.

But caring so much means that, during the potentially long process of vote-counting and after that process is over, many of us will have strong reactions—of happiness, fear, sadness, excitement, anger, joy, and more. Those reactions may be particularly intense for people who are most vulnerable personally to the different policies and practices that different leaders would pursue. Moreover, these stresses are coming on top of a terrible pandemic, struggles over racism, a severe economic downturn, and many other problems and sources of uncertainty in the United States and around the world.

I urge you to be compassionate with yourselves and others in the coming weeks. The norms for our virtual work environment that we have discussed recently in some groups emphasize the importance of empathy, respect, and flexibility, especially during difficult times. If you would benefit from any sort of personal support, 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 (for students, staff, and faculty); the University's Counseling and Mental Health Services; and other resources available at the Kennedy School and University, including those I described in my message on wellbeing a few weeks ago and a set of resiliency resources collated by Library and Knowledge Services. I encourage you as well to participate in the events and community spaces hosted by Sherri Charleston, the University's Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, and to visit the Socialize Remotely website to learn about other events being offered around the (virtual) University.

I also urge you to remember how much important work we at the Kennedy School will need to do in the United States and across the globe in the months and years ahead. Our activities related to the U.S. election—some of which are captured on a new webpage—show the depth of understanding and range of perspectives we bring to bear on public issues. Of course, the election is just one topic among many that we are addressing. I spoke more broadly a few weeks ago about the Kennedy School's crucial role in the world today, describing how we are capitalizing on our distinctive strengths as an educational institution committed to excellence, how we are teaching principled and effective public service, how we are focusing on the most consequential public challenges, and how we are striving to adhere to our principles in our activities at the School. 

In the aftermath of this election, we will continue our crucial research, outreach, and teaching and learning. To come together as a community to draw some lessons from this electoral process—and even though the outcome may not be known for a while—I will host a "U.S. Election Debrief" on Wednesday, November 4, at 1 pm ET. Please register here to join me and fellow students, staff, and faculty members to hear from Professors Arthur Brooks, Cornell William Brooks, Archon Fung, David Gergen, Nancy Gibbs, and Pippa Norris.

Other interesting and timely events are coming soon as well. Our research centers are organizing presentations and discussions on many important issues; please keep checking HKS Daily for more information. In addition, we have two upcoming Dean's Discussions on achieving social change in order to improve people's lives—through governments (on November 18) and through public organizing and social movements (on December 2).

I began my remarks a few weeks ago by saying that "we live in a time of great peril and great promise in the public sphere," and ended by saying that the Kennedy School "will rise to this occasion." My confidence that we will rise to the occasion comes from your talents and your dedication. The differences among us, in this election season and at other times, can be a source of learning and thereby strength—as long as we remain united by our commitment to public service and public problem-solving so that people can have better lives. I hope and trust that we will remain such a united community. 

With best wishes,