Letter to Parents in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11

Dear Parents,

The terrible events of September 11 have touched all of us deeply. We know that you are in close contact with your children, and are naturally concerned for their safety and wellbeing. From the date of the attacks through the present, a variety of gatherings and meetings have been organized in the Houses and in the Freshman Dormitories to provide an opportunity for students to discuss these events and the future with deans, proctors, Tutors, and Masters. The United Ministry and other University religious groups have been very active in helping our students. A moving service was held outdoors in Tercentenary Theatre on the day of the attacks; a service of remembrance was held on Friday, September 14, at the same time that services were held across the nation. Regularly scheduled religious services have been well attended. Counseling services have increased their availability on campus; we hope you will not hesitate to direct your son or daughter to the Bureau of Study Counsel or to the Mental Health Service at UHS if you detect unusual fearfulness, fatigue, depression, sleeplessness, irritability, or other signs of psychological stress.

At the same time, the events that occurred were so horrible that a certain level of anxiety and distress is only normal. Our general sense is that students who have not lost close relatives or friends in the attacks are, by and large, handling the events well and are carrying on with their academic and extracurricular affairs. The College has largely returned to its normal routines, even as we all know that important national decisions may be made at any moment, decisions that will affect every one of us. Where possible, we have been lenient about administrative deadlines to which students would normally have been held.

Along with their visible shock, sadness, and anxiety, we have observed students pulling together to show kindness and concern, both for their fellow students and for others affected by the tragedies. Students have actively raised money, given blood, and otherwise contributed to the national outpouring of support for the victims of the attacks.

We are particularly concerned for the welfare of our international students, for our students of Middle Eastern descent, and for students of the Islamic faith. We recognize that uninformed prejudice against these groups can manifest itself in hurtful comments and violent acts against anyone thought to be foreign, or "foreign-looking". The President of the University has called strongly for an atmosphere of tolerance, and a recognition of our religious pluralism. Many discussions in the Houses have dealt with this important subject, as has the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations in a University-wide panel discussion.

There have been rumors that Boston, or Harvard, would be the object of an attack. The Harvard University Police, in cooperation with local authorities, has been on heightened alert, and bomb scares have been treated seriously. Thus far, all rumors, reports, and threats have proved to be unfounded. We recognize that news of such threats will almost instantly reach the entire country and beyond; we hope that you will understand that until we have consulted with local and national law enforcement agencies, and they have given us their assessment, we are unlikely to be able to provide any useful or authoritative information. We would ask your cooperation in restraining your own alarm, and not unnecessarily increasing the alarm of your children, when you hear such reports. Security has been increased at football games, major concerts, and the like, and we have asked students to keep their doors locked and to take other simple precautions to improve their safety.

Travel will be uncertain in the coming weeks. Our information about the state of the airline schedules at the time of Freshman parents weekend and at Thanksgiving is, at this point, no better than what you can learn from the airlines or your travel agents. If a larger-than-normal number of students elect to stay here over Thanksgiving, we will certainly make every effort to see that they are taken care of during that holiday.

Do not hesitate to contact your child's Allston Burr Senior Tutor or Assistant Dean of Freshmen if you have specific concerns about your child's situation. The hearts of everyone in the College are with the families of our students, many of whom, we know, are confronting the reality of personal loss at the same time as they are trying to provide emotional support for their children. We all hope that the ennobling spirit with which so many have responded to these events will persist long into the future, and that your children will someday remember this terrible moment as one from which the world ultimately emerged a better place.


Sincerely Yours,

Harry R. Lewis
Dean of Harvard College

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