Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana implored students to continue masking and avoid large gatherings in a Thursday interview as Covid-19 cases climb on campus.
Despite a 98 percent vaccination rate, more than 240 undergraduates tested positive for Covid-19 in the last week, with Harvard's positivity rate standing at 1.05 percent as of Thursday evening, according to the University’s Covid-19 testing dashboard. Early last month — when restrictions on dining were in place — Khurana lauded the University’s low Covid-19 numbers.
Khurana said he believes case counts on campus are driven by “individual behavior” and called on students to continue masking indoors, though he acknowledged that wearing a mask can be “frustrating.”
“We need to be very conscious about masking, and particularly, we need to be especially conscious of not unmasking in large, unmasked social gatherings,” he said. “That is how we get these numbers down.”
Harvard announced earlier this week that eligible instructors may opt to teach unmasked beginning Thursday due to a plummet in local Covid-19 rates. Though the College’s indoor mask requirement remains unchanged, the University said it would be revising its health policies “in the coming days.”
“Overall the rate of Covid infections in our community and state have declined, including in other parts of Harvard,” Khurana said on Thursday. “At the College, we’re going in the wrong direction.”
When asked about how the College is aiming to prevent unmasked events and drive down cases, Khurana said it was in students’ “own control” to skip large gatherings.
“I hope people don’t want to miss out on things, and one way you can not miss out on things is not test positive for Covid,” he said.
Khurana also commented on this year’s modified Housing Day, an annual tradition during which freshmen are assigned to an upperclassman house. The rite is set to occur in person for the first time since 2019. Due to pandemic precautions, the College is considering two options for Housing Day: moving the event outdoors or “dorm storming” in smaller groups.
“One of the things that makes Harvard so special is that we don’t see our traditions as sort of straitjackets, but rather sources of inspiration and constantly are renewing ourselves,” Khurana said.
Khurana was also asked about the following:
Support for Students During the War in Ukraine
Khurana called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “unjust” and said the events “threaten life and liberty.”
The Office of International Education and the College’s residential system are fielding legal, financial, and personal questions for students affected by the crisis, he said.
“We tried to provide them the individual support they need,” Khurana said. “We tried to make it as easy as possible to access those resources.”
His Response to a Rally Condemning Anti-Asian Racism
Khurana called the racist signs left on the Undergraduate Council president’s door last month “unacceptable” and said it would “not be tolerated.”
“We as a community have to continually be vigilant and confront racism, xenophobia, bigotry, and hatred on our own campus,” he said.
Earlier this week, Khurana stepped out of his office in University Hall to listen to a rally organized by several Asian American affinity groups calling for accountability following the racist postering incident and for the formation of a degree-granting ethnic studies department.
“It’s really important for the College to support students expressing their points of view and to listen to hear the messages that they are delivering,” Khurana said. “Our college gets better when students engage.”
The Crimson interviews Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana once per month during the academic year. Click here to submit a question for consideration in our next interview.
—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.
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