In the wake of campus's closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard undergraduates have developed a “virtual postcard” project for University affiliates to share messages of reflection, hope, and gratitude.
The project — titled “Dear Harvard” — currently features a digital gallery of postcards which will eventually be printed and physically exhibited through a partnership with Harvard’s Common Spaces program when campus reopens. Students can choose to upload their own images or select a photo from an online gallery to accompany their messages, whose contents range from thank you notes, to poetry, to personal narratives about campus.
Katherine Lou ’21, one of the project’s founders, said she and her friends initially conceived of the project during the week when administrators told undergraduates they would have to leave campus.
“We were kind of frustrated that the phrase ‘Dear Members of the Harvard Community’ had become the preamble for bad news, and that there really isn’t anything connecting across Harvard except these emails that bring this bad news,” Lou said.
After formulating an informal proposal, the students reached out to Common Spaces, which manages campus spaces open to Harvard affiliates, such as the Smith Campus Center.
Julie A. Crites, the director of Common Spaces, wrote in an emailed statement that her team met the students’ proposed collaboration with enthusiasm.
“We loved how ‘big’ their idea was, the hope of the project, and the way they wanted to connect with all of the Harvard community which has great alignment with our work at the University,” Crites wrote. “We saw our role as coaching and helping our student collaborators think through some of the ‘Harvard hurdles’ that might typically come up in addition to the expanded network we could offer to the project as being part of the University’s administration.”
Lara M. Teich ’21, another of the project’s co-founders, said the medium of a postcard collection appealed to the students because of its flexibility.
“We wanted this to be as low a point-of-entry as possible, so that everyone can contribute,” Teich said. “People are sharing photos of their homes, but they are also sharing photos of cookies or their dog or a scene in Cambridge, really anything they want.”
One logistical challenge the students are currently grappling with is outreach beyond the College to Harvard’s various professional schools. Though the organizers’ current goal is only 200 postcards, they say Dear Harvard has been developed with room to grow.
Sophie C. Webster ’21, another co-founder, said the project could also potentially be adapted to serve other universities.
“The infrastructure of the website is infinitely scalable,” Webster said. “It has been built in a very modular way so that it could be deployed easily at other schools should there be interest.”
Overall — as the students continue developing and expanding Dear Harvard while COVID-19 restrictions stretch on — Vicky Xu ’20, the project’s fourth co-founder, said the experience has been “surprisingly fun.”
“I think it is such a privilege to be able to work on something and dedicate your time to making something like this project,” Xu said. “It has in a way allowed me to step outside the confines the pandemic has put me in, since I can see something that I am working on from my home being used by people across the globe.”
—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.