By Andy Z. Wang
The Class of 2023 will remember a college experience that has been marked by transition.
With three of the University’s top brass set to change faces after this school year — including the presidency, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences — graduating seniors will be leaving the University together with outgoing president Lawrence S. Bacow. For some, it’s a welcome change, as only a quarter of respondents indicated a favorable view of Bacow, a marked decline from last year.
Although students voted overwhelmingly to dissolve the Undergraduate Council last spring, just 7 percent of graduating seniors responded that they view its successor, the Harvard Undergraduate Association, in a favorable light.
And as the Supreme Court prepares to deliver a decision on Harvard’s use of race-conscious admissions, a strong majority of survey respondents indicated support for affirmative action.
Sentiment toward campus administrators improved significantly among seniors graduating last year, during which all students were invited back to campus and Covid-19 restrictions were gradually lifted. That sentiment, however, did not carry over to this year’s Class of 2023 survey respondents, who reported lower favorability ratings for both Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and University President Bacow. FAS Dean and President-Elect Claudine Gay, on the other hand, saw a significant bump in favorability.
Favorability for Bacow among respondents dropped from 33 percent to just over 25 percent, with a plurality of respondents — 44 percent — indicating they had no opinion. Twenty-two percent of seniors said they had unfavorable views of the outgoing president, a slight drop from 24 percent last year.
Exactly half of respondents reported viewing Khurana favorably, a small decline from 54 percent last year. His unfavorability rating remained roughly unchanged from last year, at 19 percent this year compared to 20 percent last year.
More than 40 percent of respondents — an increase from the 30 percent reported last year — said they viewed Gay favorably. Just 8 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of Gay, more than halving the 18 percent who said the same last year. Nonetheless, a large amount — 35 percent — reported having no opinion on Gay.
In October, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in lawsuits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina that seek to end affirmative action in American higher education. The court’s opinion is expected later this summer.
Graduating seniors reported strong support for affirmative action, legal challenges notwithstanding. Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated a favorable opinion of race-conscious affirmative action, while 15 percent reported an unfavorable opinion. Fifteen percent of respondents said they held no opinion on the matter.
An outsized majority of Black respondents — 80 percent — held favorable opinions of affirmative action, as compared to 79 percent of South Asian respondents, 76 percent of Hispanic or Latinx respondents, 60 percent of white respondents, and 58 percent of Asian respondents (excluding South Asia and the Middle East).
In September 2021, Harvard announced it would divest its endowment from fossil fuels, following years of activism. This year, 60 percent of respondents viewed the move favorably, with 9 percent rating it unfavorable. Last year’s senior class saw the decision more favorably, with 74 percent of respondents in support and 7 percent opposed.
Late last spring, The Crimson’s Editorial Board sparked controversy by endorsing the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement, which calls on Western institutions to cut ties with Israel to apply international pressure over the country’s treatment of Palestinians. A plurality of survey respondents — 32 percent — reported a favorable view of the BDS movement, while 18 percent of respondents indicated that they held an unfavorable opinion. Roughly a quarter of respondents said they either held no opinion, while another quarter said they did not know enough about the matter.
Support for divestment from prisons was the highest-rated of all campus divestment movements. Sixty-six percent of respondents indicated that Harvard should divest from private prisons, while 9 percent opposed such a decision. Last year, 72 percent of respondents said they supported private prison divestment.
Harvard University Police Department
Early last month, a “swatting” attack against four Black Harvard seniors elicited an armed response by Harvard campus police. Following the incident, 45 Harvard student organizations sent the University a letter demanding a response to the situation.
Nonetheless, a majority of seniors — 58 percent — said they fully or somewhat trust the Harvard University Police Department, holding constant from last year. Trust among Black students was lower than among other students, with 34 percent of Black students reporting trust of HUPD, compared to 43 percent among Hispanic or Latinx students, 66 percent among Asian students, and 63 percent among white students. Meanwhile, 24 percent of all respondents said they somewhat or fully distrust HUPD.
Similar to last year, a lower proportion of students — 44 percent — said they fully or somewhat trust the Cambridge Police Department.
Sexual Assault and Harassment
Over the years, the Class of 2023 has seen multiple faculty members face accusations of sexual misconduct. In 2020, The Crimson reported that three eminent Anthropology professors faced accusations of sexual harassment. Harvard then revoked emeritus status of one of these faculty, Gary Urton, and placed another, John L. Comaroff, on administrative leave.
In September 2022, Comaroff was permitted to return to the classroom, despite new allegations of sexual harassment as part of an amended lawsuit in June 2022. His return to teaching was met with protests on campus, including a 100-person walkout at the beginning of this semester.
Nineteen percent of respondents said they have been sexually harassed or assaulted while at Harvard, up from 12 percent of respondents last year. Of those students, 66 percent identify as female, 28 percent identify as male, and 6 percent identify as genderqueer or nonbinary. Only 12 respondents — less than 2 percent — who were sexually harassed or assaulted at Harvard chose to report the incident.
A majority of respondents — 53 percent — said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with Harvard’s efforts to prevent sexual misconduct on campus, with just 13 percent reporting some degree of satisfaction. Just 28 percent of respondents said they somewhat or fully trusted the Office for Gender Equity, which is tasked with addressing sexual harassment and assault.
The Class of 2023 has seen two major tenure denial cases shake up the University. In December 2019, Harvard denied tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures professor Lorgia García Peña, which reignited the push for a formalized ethnic studies program and sparked calls for tenure reform.
In February 2021, professor Cornel R. West ’74 — a Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at the Harvard Divinity School and in the Department of African and African American Studies in the FAS — announced he would leave Harvard after the University denied his request to be considered for tenure.
Forty-three percent of students surveyed said the University has made a tenure decision during their time at the College with which they have disagreed. In a freeform response asking seniors to indicate which tenure decision they disagreed with, 87 wrote down West’s name, while 39 cited the case of García Peña.
Forty-two percent of surveyed seniors reported that they had sought help from University Health Services for mental health, marking a three percentage point increase from last year. A smaller share of respondents — 35 percent — received support from off-campus professionals, while 10 percent sought help from on-campus peer counseling groups.
In October 2022, HUHS announced that it would partner with TimelyMD to provide free telehealth services to Harvard students, including 12 scheduled counseling sessions per year. Thirteen percent of respondents said they have used the TimelyCare service.
Among respondents who sought help from HUHS, 34 percent said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their experience, a slight uptick from last year’s 32 percent. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied, also a slight uptick from last year’s 51 percent.
In comparison, 76 percent of respondents who went to an off-campus professional said they were satisfied with their treatment.
Last spring, Harvard released a landmark report that outlined its historical ties to slavery, sparking calls for the school to change the name of buildings and institutions named after slaveholders. In February 2023, student activists called on the University to dename Winthrop House, which is named after two John Winthrops who enslaved people. In 2020, students in Mather House pushed for a similar denaming on the basis that its namesake, Increase Mather, also enslaved people.
In May 2022, Gay released a procedure for requesting name changes from buildings, spaces, programs, and professorships.
A plurality of surveyed seniors — 43 percent — believe that Harvard should rename buildings and institutions if their namesakes were slaveholders, while 26 percent opposed such measures. Support for denaming was sharply divided along political lines: while 59 percent of progressive students were in support, just 2 percent of conservatives said the same.
Across the board, survey respondents indicated low levels of support for student leaders.
Although the student voted overwhelmingly to dissolve the Harvard Undergraduate Council last spring, just 29 percent of respondents said they viewed the move favorably, with a plurality — 42 percent — reporting they hold no opinion. Even fewer reported approval for the UC’s successor, the Harvard Undergraduate Association: Just 7 percent indicated favorable views, with a majority reporting no opinion.
The inaugural two cohorts of HUA co-presidents have met a similar fate among the graduating class. Only 9 percent of respondents indicated a favorable view of the current HUA co-presidents, John S. Cooke ’25 and Shikoh Misu Hirabayashi ’24, with 16 percent saying they held an unfavorable view. A plurality of respondents — 48 percent — indicated they had no opinion of the two, who were elected in February.
Seniors were just slightly more approving of their predecessors, LyLena D. Estabine ’24 and Travis Allen Johnson ’24, with 12 percent reporting favorability, a significant drop from their immediate precursors on the UC the two years prior, who received 33 percent and 17 percent favorability ratings. As with Cooke and Hirabayashi, a plurality of respondents — 42 percent — said they had no opinion of the two, with another 29 percent indicating unfavorability.
Harvard will be holding an in-person commencement for the second year since the pandemic. Students who responded to The Crimson’s survey overwhelmingly viewed the selection of Tom Hanks as Commencement speaker favorably, at 69 percent. Just 9 percent reported that they viewed the decision unfavorably.
A majority of respondents — 59 percent — said they held a favorable view of The Harvard Crimson, a five percentage point increase from last year. Fourteen percent viewed the newspaper unfavorably, down from 18 percent last year.
About 18 percent of respondents indicated a favorable opinion of the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine. A majority of respondents — 51 percent — said they viewed the Lampoon unfavorably.
Only 7 percent of seniors reported a favorable opinion of the Harvard Salient, a conservative publication revived in 2021. Sixty-one percent of seniors reported an unfavorable opinion of the publication.