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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023

Khurana Commends Harvard’s Covid-19 Response, Looks Ahead to Loosened Restrictions

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana spoke to The Crimson in an interview Thursday.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana spoke to The Crimson in an interview Thursday. By Pei Chao Zhuo
By Vivi E. Lu and Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writers

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana applauded Harvard’s handling of Covid-19 this semester and said he is hopeful for more progress toward normalcy in a Thursday interview.

Students returned to campus to renewed Covid-19 restrictions — including grab-and-go dining and limited common spaces — amid a surge in cases across the country due to the Omicron variant. Though some of the school’s policies have since loosened, Khurana acknowledged student frustrations over continued restrictions.

In the last week, 248 Harvard affiliates — including 59 undergraduates — tested positive for Covid-19. In the interview, Khurana said the College’s Covid-19 case counts have been lower than early modeling of infections predicted, even as administrators planned for a “worst case scenario.”

“I believe that we are pointing in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve already seen restrictions removed, and as long as we continue to go in the right direction, I can imagine we’ll continue to encourage that because we know how important our residential living environment is to our mission.”

Khurana added that the school’s Covid-19 policies were “anchored” around in-person instruction though the College is now trying to ensure the residential dining system reopens “as quickly as possible.”

He commended the “patience” and “sacrifices” of students who are frustrated by heightened campus restrictions this semester.

“I know that good people of good conscience can have different views about Covid and the restrictions,” Khurana said.

During the Thursday interview, he said the College is prepared to update policies in accordance with the evolving public health situation.

“We’re all planning for when Covid moves from pandemic to endemic. I think we will have good policies, as we ordinarily do for endemic situations,” Khurana said. “And we will make sure they’re updated for the realities and public health realities of Covid.”

Khurana also acknowledged student mental health struggles as a result of the pandemic. Last fall, Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services reported an uptick in the number of calls they received.

“I recognize a lot of students are going through a lot of change,” Khurana said. “People are still worried about their families, and just a general uncertainty can be a source of great anxiety and stress.”

Still, Khurana said he believes the pandemic may have also provided an opportunity for students to work toward “more inclusive” spaces due to the “loss of institutional knowledge” around Harvard’s social scene.

Early in the pandemic, Harvard dropped its sanctions against single-gender social clubs — Khurana’s controversial brainchild — after a consequential Supreme Court ruling on sex discrimination.

“This period has been challenging for the transition of both knowledge and tradition,” Khurana said. “I’m cautiously hopeful and optimistic that the social scene that we will have for everybody who’s had their eyes open for these last couple of years will be more inclusive and more respectful.”

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 Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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