HDS celebrated the 2021 Peter J. Gomes STB '68 Honors Friend of the School on May 11.
Our 2021 Friend of the School is Drew Gilpin Faust, President Emerita of Harvard University the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, and longtime partner and advocate for the Divinity School. President Emerita Faust engaged in a reflective conversation with Dean David N. Hempton.
Also, be sure to check out the HDS Gomes Honors Alumni Program, which celebrated this year's alumni honorees: Joshua Eaton, MDiv ’10; Dr. Omar Sultan Haque, MTS ‘04, MD ’08; Robin Coste Lewis, MTS '97; and Lama Rod Owens, MDiv ’17.
LORI STEVENS: Hello, everyone. And welcome to the 2021 Gomes Honors Friend of the School celebration. We are thrilled to honor former President Drew Faust today. My name is Lori Stevens, I'm the Associate Dean for Development and External Relations at Harvard Divinity School. And I have the great privilege of getting us started.
Before I turn it over to Sahar, I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to her and all of our alumni and the amazing alumni volunteers who serve on the Council. Your hard work and dedication this year have made this event and so many other important initiatives and programs for alumni possible at Harvard Divinity School. With that, Sahar, over to you.
SAHAR SHAHID: A very warm welcome and thank you for being here with us today. My name is the Sahar Shahid. And I'm a 2017 graduate of the Master of Divinity program at Harvard Divinity School. I'm joining you today from London, England and it has been my esteemed honor to serve as a Chair of Gomes Honors Committee this year on the HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council.
The HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council is a diverse body of 14 alumni across all class years and programs, as well as members of HDS staff, the student body, and representatives of HDS in the Harvard Alumni Association. The goal of the Council is to promote a mutually beneficial relationship between the Divinity School and its alumni and between HDS alumni community and the larger Harvard alumni community.
The Peter J. Gomes STB '68 Distinguished Alumni Honors or Gomes Honors, for short, is our annual alumni award and program named for extraordinary HDS alumnus, Reverend Peter Gomes. Gomes Honors was first established in 2013 to celebrate distinguished HDS alumni whose excellence in work, life, and service pays homage to the mission and values of Harvard Divinity School.
Each year, the Gomes Honors Committee goes through the challenging and rewarding process, selecting five honorees to receive this award, four alumni and one non-alum friend of the school. When celebrating in person, we would normally honor all five awardees together in one half-day program on campus. But in celebrating the sport virtually, we wanted to host space differently.
This year, our Gomes Honor celebration consists of two programs. Last week, we held a celebration for our alumni honorees, Joshua Eden, Dr. Omar Sultan Haque, Robin Coste Lewis, and Lama Rod Owens. If you were not able to join us for that, there will be a recording available in the coming weeks. And I highly recommend you take the time to know more about these amazing alumni.
Today, we are here for part two of Gomes Honors to celebrate our Friend of the School. The Friend of the School Award was established as part of Gomes Honors to recognize and celebrate individuals who do not have a degree from HDS but who helped champion the school's mission and make meaningful contributions to our community.
This year, we are pleased to name as our 2021 Friend of School President Emerita of Harvard University and the Arthur Kingsley Porter University professor, Drew Gilpin Faust. Among her many great accomplishments as a leader, scholar, writer, and teacher, President Emerita Faust is also a stalwart advocate for the arts and humanities.
In her time as President, she instituted the One Harvard initiative that encouraged new and strong collaboration across academic disciplines and administrative units at Harvard. Her vision and dedication to this initiative helped illuminate the importance of the work of HDS to create a just world at peace across cultural and religious divides.
We are just so thrilled to be able to honor her today, most especially with an award named after Reverend Peter Gomes whom she knew well as a colleague and friend. And now I will turn it over to Dean Hempton who will share his own personal reflections and engage President Emerita Faust in conversation. Thank you both so much for being here.
DAVID HEMPTON: Thank you, Sahar, so much. Thanks to all of our alums. And welcome everyone. Thanks for joining us today. And especially, warm welcome to Drew Faust. Drew, the last time I remember seeing you was for dinner about three or four days before the campus shut down with the pandemic. So seeing you again even on Zoom, I think, brings some kind of hope of the last year and 1/4 is almost behind us.
And I'm hoping for better things. I just want to congratulate you on this tremendously well-deserved award as a Gomes Honors Friend of the Divinity School of Harvard. You've been a remarkable supporter of the School throughout your presidency. I was saying earlier on, looking out over the renovation of Swartz Hall, which will be finished in a few months time.
And our ability to do that campus project owes a lot to you during the Capitol campaign and your advocacy for our School. So we appreciate what you've done for us. And we're really glad to have you with us. So welcome and congratulations.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Thank you, David.
DAVID HEMPTON: Maybe start us off on our conversation. This award does carry the name of our mutual friend and colleague, Peter Gomes. And I know that we both have a thunder stories and engagements with Peter as a larger-than-life person. So I was hoping you might be able to share a story about the person for whom this award is named.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Let me start by just saying how honored I am to be awarded the designation Friend of the School. I take that with great pride and also to have this award be in Peter's name because I know how much he meant to this school and to the University and to the world as a whole. So I'm really grateful for this recognition, so thank you so much.
I was thinking about Peter in anticipation of today and remembering when I was named President. My appointment was announced. And I was sitting in my office at the Radcliffe Institute, where I was Dean. And suddenly, in swept, Peter Gomes. And I mean, swept because he was in his full vestments. And if you recall his vestments, they were quite gaudy, shall I say often. I mean, he had a bright red outfit that he would wear to the honorant's dinner.
And whatever kind of elaborate sewing and decoration was possible, Peter embraced it. So he came sweeping in in this outfit and went down on one knee and said, Madam, I'm here to pledge you my fealty. Now, no one had ever said anything remotely like that to me, nor did I think I'd been named King or Queen of Harvard. But this was Peter's way of making a statement and making an impression that was unforgettable.
And it was just kind of perfect Peter because it was both the embodiment of his theatricality, his deep roots in tradition and the past but also his desire to say something significant about his dedication to Harvard and its new President, who he hoped would succeed and support the University. That meant so much to him. So that's one of my favorite Peter Gomes memories. Who else but Peter would have thought to do such a thing.
DAVID HEMPTON: That is a very typical of him. I also have many memories of Peter. But one thing I will say is that when I moved here from Boston University, before I became Dean, I have this memory of chatting with him just outside Memorial Hall and giving me all kinds of wise advice about how to settle into Harvard.
But also a tremendous amount of personal warmth and engagement that he really cared about the people, that really cared about helping me, that he didn't do very well, settle into a new community. And so I have many memories including the famous-- I think, it was Tuesday afternoon teas and [AUDIO OUT]. And his wonderful library full of his interesting devotion to the British Royal family of all thing.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Maybe he wished I had been named King, you know.
DAVID HEMPTON: Exactly. That might have been true. But it's so good to remember him in this way. So, Drew-- it's well, three years since she stepped down as President of Harvard, which hopefully has afforded you a little time for reflection and a little bit of time for recovery. I'd like to ask, what did you enjoy most or perhaps, more realistically, what did you find to be the most rewarding part of the job of being President at Harvard as you look back on your time here?
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, Harvard is such a remarkable place and filled with people of such great talent that for me, watching them realize the possibilities in their talents and then demonstrate those talents, whether it was in a seminar that made an intellectual point and a scientific announcement and a theatrical performance.
And whatever it was that members of this community were doing, that they had dedicated themselves to, and that Harvard had, in some way, as an institution, helped support just thrilled me. And to be able to help unleash that talent and contribute to the support of that talent was, for me, the most meaningful part of my presidency. And the rewards were great when you saw it as it's happening before you.
DAVID HEMPTON: Yeah, I remember certainly, I used to love reading your baccalaureate addresses which you gave each year to the undergraduates who you sent them on their way with a word of wisdom. And what I really appreciated about those, I think, was this getting at something deeper than mere Harvard accomplishments. But something really deep and their spirits, I think, could take with them out into the world.
I remember that your talk-- I think it must have been soon after the Boston Marathon bombing, we encourage those students to run towards things of need and to serve them that way. And there were many others like that as well. We asked our students to notice things and to be part of something bigger than themselves. So I'm really grateful for those observations.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, I loved that assignment to the baccalaureate assignment. I mean, you here you have this, more or less, captive audience because most students feel this is something they ought to come to for their graduation week. So they pack Memorial Church. And you look at and you think, these people are going to have such an impact on the world. I don't know what they're going to do.
They may be a concert pianist. They may be presidents of the United States, quite literally. They may be-- who knows, climate change activists who ultimately bring us to a new place in relationship to the environment. And you get 20 minutes to say some parting words to them. So it always seemed to me such a privilege and a challenge to think about what is it that I want them to take away. And you mentioned a couple of those talks, David.
But there was one talk. It was probably this spring after Peter died. I think Peter died in the winter, maybe February, January, February. And that year's back-- and of course, he was always at my side during the baccalaureate, during the time that he was the minister of the church. And so I was feeling his absence very deeply. And I had a section in the talk where I cited Peter as someone who never let somebody else complete his sentences in a metaphorical way.
You couldn't assume because Peter was X, he was also a Y. He loved being a contradiction. He loved being, as he put it, an Afro-Saxon. He loved being a Baptist preacher who was in full vestments as if he were the Episcopal bishop. He loved being a gay Republican. I mean, it's just the things that he embodied, each one was a decision and a authentic commitment.
And he didn't feel pressed to be one thing because he was already something else. And so I tried to convey that to the students. Be your authentic selves in the way that Peter was. Peter once described himself-- maybe often described himself-- as an oddity. And so I said, don't be afraid to be an oddity. And put together things in whatever way is right for you, not how you're told that they ought to be put together.
DAVID HEMPTON: No, it was good observations. Do you ever think of a-- you've obviously given a lot of speeches when you were President. And did you ever think of putting them together in a little volume or anything? Or do you think that they're past their moment of urgency or--
DREW GILPIN FAUST: I don't know. I guess, without being unkind to those who have put together books of speeches. When I read them, I always said to myself, I'm never going to do this because they do pass their moment. And they're often very particular in their crafting. They're all available online if anyone wants to look at them. You can just find them on the Presidents-- the History of the Harvard Presidency page. So they're there in an archival form.
I think my response has been to teach a course on American speeches because I did think about giving speeches so much and thought about how to do it and what worked when I was President. I thought, well, this is something I've learned in the last 10 years that maybe I can share. So I do a course on kind of the history of American speeches which is very much informed by my experiences giving all those talks.
DAVID HEMPTON: That sounds like a fun class. And so moving concern to maybe slightly less fun, what do you look back on as being the most challenging aspect of being President of the Harvard during your stint which was what? 10-11 years? 11 or you were--
DREW GILPIN FAUST: 11, yeah. 11.
DAVID HEMPTON: Yeah.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, I began in 2007, in July of 2007. So I had one year to kind of find my footing. And it was after an interim year by Derek Brock, so things have been somewhat disrupted and out of sync at Harvard. And so I tried to settle everything down in my first year. But then all of a sudden, there came the financial crisis of 2008, which in retrospect now, looks like a very small crisis in comparison to what my successor has been facing over the last year and a half.
But at the time, the endowment dropped by almost 30% and the endowment provides about a third of the annual budget for the University. So we had to really think about what this meant. We didn't know where it was going, whether we come out of it or not. And so managing that, I think was a very unexpected and challenging crisis for me. But it also forced Harvard to ask questions about itself that shaped my whole presidency.
And that it was a kind of wind at my back to make certain kinds of changes that I don't think would have been imaginable without that crisis. One was changing the governance structures in the way the corporation was structured and operates. So that was one. That One Harvard measures that became so much a purpose of my presidency really grew out of the necessity for collaboration at a moment when everybody was back on their heels.
So it had some good aspects that emerged from having to confront difficulties. There's another way to look at your question, though, which is-- I mean, that's an event that was a special challenge. But I think one of the ongoing challenges for any University president is there's so many different stakeholders, constituencies in a University with differing views and different experiences.
Faculty, staff, students, alumni, the communities in which we're located, the national context in which we operate, the international context in which we operate, they are always having to listen really hard and try to figure out how to reconcile all the loud voices that are coming at you from these different directions. And so I think that is a challenge of University leadership that was a matter for constant attention for me.
DAVID HEMPTON: And it sounds like you're first one to many of-- never waste a good crisis really in terms of treating them as an opportunity. And nice to bump into you quite a bit when you were President, I was Dean during the Capitol campaign, representing Harvard and different parts of the world. I just wanted you to speak just a few minutes to that. How-- just what you felt about that and maybe even an incident or a person or a place that particularly stands out to you as a big an ambassador from Harvard in the wider world.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: It was, for me, an extraordinary opportunity to have the chance to go to all these different parts of the world where Harvard was very meaningful to people and places that I've never been and places that I always made sure I had a kind of little mini course on before I travel. I've got faculty to come and have a seminar with me. And I get them to give me a reading list. So I turned it into something of an intellectual exercise as well as a presidential duty. And I loved it.
Couple of very meaningful trips for me. One, very late in my presidency, I went to Vietnam. And that is a place I had always wanted to go because it had been such a force, the very thought of Vietnam and the reality of the war. It had been such a force in my adolescents and young adulthood. And all the names were so familiar from the news every night, in the newspapers, and so forth, that I had long to go. And so I did. And there were many aspects of that that I found unforgettable.
But one of the aspects of it that was so striking to me is that you think about what Harvard does here and there in the world. And I knew that Harvard had been involved through the Kennedy School in supporting Vietnam after the end of the American War. But I had not realized how important that support had proved to be in Vietnam until I saw the kind of reception that I was given.
The Prime Minister really went out of his way to make sure that his schedule enabled him to meet with me. And essentially, I learned that the activities and advice from Harvard faculty in the early '90s were crucial to setting up an economy that enabled Vietnam to come out of the real crisis and doldrums of the post-war period and become the, as you know, very vibrant economic force that it is today.
And so I was just kind of awestruck that this is one of many, many things that Harvard faculty and the Harvard University has done in the world. And that even though no one had held it up to me is this is the most important thing Harvard's ever done, for people in Vietnam, it was just enormously important. And I was received as connected to it with great gratitude. And so that was really memorable.
Other kinds of memorable moments-- well, I met twice with Xi Jinping, once before he became the Head of State in China when he was very early in my presidency. And then once quite late in my presidency. And that was unforgettable for several reasons. One is the beginning of the conversation-- when you have a conversation with a Chinese leader, you sit in a horseshoe. You are at his right at the top of the horseshoe. And your staff or whoever is with you are arrayed in rank.
You have to tell what rank they have. So for example, if I had several deans with me, I would have had to rank the deans. Wouldn't that have been terrible? So they're on the right, and then his staff's on the left. And there's a translator. And so everything he speaks a little speech, that's translated. I respond, that's translated. So it's very formal, very structured.
I was told that actually he spoke very good English in all probability and so that he was getting double time to figure out what to say in response to me because he heard me say it, then he hear what the translator said. Anyway, we're going through this whole ritual. And we start talking about climate change because he and Obama had just signed this agreement to work together on climate change.
And I thought, what a wonderful thing to be talking about how universities might be able to help with this challenge. And I just spoke in at Tsinghua, which is his alma mater, very scientifically-based institution that is doing a lot on climate. And we have raised programs. So I was just thrilled to be talking about this extremely important issue with one of the most powerful men in the world.
And then he turned to me or to the translator and he said, I want to thank you for taking care of my daughter while she was at Harvard. Now his daughter had been an undergraduate at Harvard, graduated just a year or so beforehand, and came under a pseudonym, so people didn't know who she was. And I was not going to bring it up because I thought if he didn't want it known, I didn't want to blow his cover.
But he said, thank you. And I said back to him, thank you for entrusting her to us. And thank you for believing in us as a parent. And he got all choked up. And he was just visibly moved personally by this interchange about his daughter and her college experience at Harvard. And I thought, well, I'm not going to forget this one, this force in the world who's also just a Harvard dad. So that's something that was very memorable for me.
DAVID HEMPTON: Well, those are great stories. And since the world is going to need more of those kind of bridges and empathetic things related to-- as we see more and more. So I think Harvard is a remarkable institution. I felt the same even in a more humble way moving to different parts of the world. And just the reputation of the University and it's force for good. It's a very humbling thing. And by the way, Drew, I know I would have been first in the line of things.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Definitely. You have God on your side, David. We [INAUDIBLE].
DAVID HEMPTON: Exactly. So it's been three years now since you stepped down. Are there transit you were seeing in higher education during your time as President that were disturbing at the time or were difficult at the time that you see continuing and so on? Or do you keep abreast of what's going on in the world of higher education and so on? Or how do you think about that or are you glad to be in a different role right now?
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, this is such a difficult time and people often say to me, you certainly picked the right time to step down. I have enormous sympathy for my successor. And he and I talk often. And he asked me to chair committee form which I'm doing. That's the least I can do given all that he's had to face. So I feel glad to be where I am instead of where I was at this particular moment. I keep up sort of about higher education.
But I do see it as a chapter. Higher education leadership is a chapter that is over. And that I now have a chance to do some other things. I serve on the MIT Corporation. So that's a way that I keep my hand in and hope to use my experience and knowledge in a positive way. And people around the University call me from time to time.
But I've been devoting my real attention to trying to write a book and trying to get back into some semblance of scholarship and teaching again. And that's been a great joy for me, because it was what occupied most of my professional life before [INAUDIBLE] me to Radcliffe back in 2001.
DAVID HEMPTON: Yeah. So tell us a little bit more about your book and about your teaching. I mean, what have you enjoyed most about returning to the life as a scholar teacher at Harvard? And tell us a little bit about the projects you're engaged in.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, I was never a teacher at Harvard in any real sense. I taught a course occasionally when I was Radcliffe Dean. And I had some graduate students because a faculty member in the history department, who did Civil War, died. And I inherited his graduate students back in the early 2000s. But I basically devoted myself to my administrative rules at Radcliffe and Harvard.
So I've never had the privilege of being in a classroom with Harvard students. And I wasn't sure at the end of my presidency whether I did want to do that. I thought maybe it's just to make a clean break and kind of go away in January and February. That seems very appealing when you think about New England in those years. You just have your life organized around something other than the academic realm.
But then I thought, I don't want to have missed this. And so I've been teaching courses, undergraduate seminars in several topics. And I just so enjoyed these students and how bright they are, how inspiring they are. How, in that time, it's been pretty dark time if you think of the political scene since I stepped down in 2018, not to mention the pandemic.
These students give you hope for the future. And so I have relished the chance to learn from them and share some of my ancient wisdom, in so far as it exists, with them on topics of interest to espouse.
DAVID HEMPTON: And tell us a little bit about your book project. I mean, what are you writing about? What engages your attention now as a historian.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, I'm writing something that is quite different from anything I've done before. Though, I guess, you could say there are a couple of magazine pieces that I've written that pave the way for this. I'm writing a history memoir of growing up in the 1950s and '60s. And when I say history memoir, it's both my own memories but also the context that somebody who has been a historian all her life might include and surround those personal memories with.
So it's situated within scholarly literature and, I hope, deep examination of what that era was. I wanted to do this because I felt that-- not only is my generation, I'll say our generation, David, rapidly parting from the scene. But I felt a lot of the memories and renditions of that era were not accurate. They were kind of off in a way.
And so I wanted to be a witness in something of the way that so many people have been-- from the past, have been witnesses to me. In my historical work, what I does is listen to voices from the Civil War era from the 19th century and try to understand how they construe their world. I now want to be one of those voices and try to construe this world of the 1950s and '60s for those who came after it and did not see it firsthand.
And that, for me, includes a lot about gender, what it was like being a little girl growing up in Virginia and the kinds of limitations that were placed on me. It's about being white and growing up in a segregated society when things were beginning to change but not nearly fast enough. It's about being a student in the 1960s, growing up in the Cold War era of the 1950s with bomb shelters and anxieties about Russia and Sputnik and so forth.
But then coming of age in the Vietnam era when students were challenging many of these assumptions that had been fed to them as children. So that's what I've been working on. And the pandemic has changed it in ways that I didn't anticipate. Good ways because here I am sitting in Cambridge with my Zoom instrument.
And I've been finding all these people from my past and interviewing them on Zoom. And I don't think I would have imagined that I could go travel to see them all. And so I hadn't expected to do so much in the way of interviews and direct face-to-face exchanges with people who have memory statements. So that's become a part, a central part of it.
DAVID HEMPTON: So that-- it sounds like a fascinating project. I did-- personal to me a while ago-- an essay you had written for The Atlantic in 2019 about-- it was called, Race, History, and Memories of a Virginia Girlhood or something like that. And I think it's a really brilliant piece actually. It's beautifully written and very moving. You said something in that piece that got my attention.
You said that you started noticing that the structural inequalities of Virginian society as a young girl. And then you write as a nine-year-old of an old white segregated school. You were outraged that I only now understood that I had been somehow implicated in this without awareness.
And I've wondered since whether I was motivated in part by my growing recognition of my own disadvantage as a girl whose mother insisted I learn to accept that I live in a man's world, which is kind of interesting set of observations. One, is that you started noticing quite early in your life the kind of structural deeply embedded, almost polities forms at time.
You said something that bought your attention. But it obviously got your attention very early in your life. And that, along with the sense of yourself as a young girl in a man's world as well. It does seem like those two things almost coming into your consciousness together were really big shapers of how you view the world since and even in your own writing since.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: I think that's really true. And I take it back to a principle that is one, so common among little kids which is, this isn't fair. Things should be fair. And I think it began with that. It's not fair that my brothers get to do x, y, and z, and I don't. And once I realized that Black people couldn't do things that white people could, that wasn't fair either. And so I was so angry always about things that weren't fair.
And I think I still have a certain element of that. When I would be criticized-- you know, I get letters criticizing US President all the time. And what really drove-- that was fine. Criticism is fine. But when someone misrepresented something and then criticized me for it, I find myself saying in my office, that isn't fair. It's not a fair fight if they make it up. So I think I still find that a real motivation of what is fair. And that encompasses what you describe.
DAVID HEMPTON: Yeah. It's interesting, I think-- obviously, I grew up in a similar generation but obviously, a very different place in Belfast in Northern Atlanta. But some things that connect with this-- you know, I grew up in a very working class, Ulster Protestant family.
So on the one hand, I was part of a discriminatory regime, if you like, against Irish Catholics, which I, again, began to realize maybe a bit later than you did but certainly, when I was in midteen years. But also a sense that my parents were really very humble. My father was a bread salesman. My mother was a seamstress. So they were not at the top of any particular heap.
So I had a sense of social class and not being part of the kind of unionist, Anglo-Irish landowning ascendant. It was running the pole. On another level, I was the Ulster Protestant, not the Irish Catholic. And I think those interstitial ambiguous areas of life, once you start to notice them early in your life, I really think shape us. My own PhD was on evangelical anti-Catholicism.
And I was really interested to figure out how anti-Catholicism happens and where it comes from, why it played the role it did in the society I was growing up in. And I did get the sense from your article or from your essay in The Atlantic and also from this memoir that early formation in Virginia and through your early education has had a big bearing on the kind of historian you became.
The questions you got interested in, and the kind of-- I don't know-- complexity that you see in these things, that there are deep structures that underpin some of the things we're talking about, race, for example, that need to be analyzed and faced up to him. And you finished the essay with a quote from James Baldwin about the need to face up to the history of this country before you can begin to overcome it.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: I think that's what drove me to be a historian. And I was so interested in what you just said, David, about your choice of a thesis topic. Because my choice of a PhD thesis topic was to look at white Southerners who defended slavery in the 19th century and how they could possibly do that. How could they tell themselves that they were Christians, that they were virtuous people, and defend this indefensible institution.
And what I was doing there, I think, was projecting my own life back a century, asking deeply about people all around me in Virginia in the 1950s. My parents, my aunts and uncles, my schoolmates and their parents, who were defending a segregationist society in 1951 two, three, four, five, six. And how do people do that? How do they blind themselves to what seems such evident injustices? And how do we convince ourselves of things, as human beings, that when you look back, seem unimaginable.
So I do think that those experiences shaped my desire to understand power and privilege. And the power and privileges of race and how they've operated in our country. And that a lot of what I've written about is about the complexities of human beings who see themselves and are seen by many others as decent people who do unspeakable things.
DAVID HEMPTON: Yeah. So what-- Drew, what do think we are, as a country, around issues of race? I know one of the people I got to meet through you, I thought was just a magnificent person, John Lewis, who I know as a personal friend and someone who contributed a great deal to your understanding of where we are as a country. And now did you have a sense of optimism about the future around these issues of racial inclusion, belonging?
Or are you-- because one of the things that struck me from your essay was just how long this problem has been, right from those first 20 or so slaves that came into Virginia in 1619, right through the various different episodes to the present day. So how do you think about that in terms of--
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, I veer between optimism and despair. Optimism, in that this moment of racial reckoning. Reckoning is such a good word for what needs to happen and I think what is going on in many ways of recognition that these problems are structural. And they're not going to be changed until we really dig deep into understanding how those structures came into place and how we dislodge the structures, not just men's hearts and souls. We've got to change more than just individual attitudes.
And I think people are recognizing that now. But we're also at a moment where we're so polarized that the fact that there is this recognition is enhancing the resistance of another part of the population to that recognition. And we see violence and just outrageous statements. The Three-fifths clause was created to end slavery, somebody and a politician announced a few days ago. It's just absurd.
So how do we move towards a place that is better and overcome that resistance. Now in my hopeful moments, I think, well, maybe this is just the last gasp of resistance to a society that is dramatically transformed from the time I was a child, in its demographics and what's possible to imagine. You know, interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia until 1969. Just things like that have changed.
And I believe that there's been real pushback. And this goes beyond just Black and white. This is also-- we see violence against Asian-Americans who are not even a significant presence in American society until after the immigration law of 1965. So we've welcomed people to our shores and then turned around and created a whole new element of or enhanced element of-- hardly new-- but enhanced element of prejudice.
What about homophobia which-- no one even spoke about such things when I was a child. And now we have marriage equality. But we also have all this pushback. So is the pushback a product of progress and therefore, will we move through it and overcome it? Or is it a real slide back into the darkness of an earlier era?
DAVID HEMPTON: The thing about being a historian is that we're always better at reflecting than we are in--
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Answering questions. Yes.
DAVID HEMPTON: That I can talk all day about these very interesting observations but maybe, I'd like to circle back just, before we close, on Harvard and the Divinity School. And just once again, to express my gratitude to you for your deep emphasis on one Harvard. I think every single Dean that I served with and continue to serve with, really felt part of a bigger whole at Harvard, that we were all in something really important together. And that's still the case under-- Larry Bacow is a wonderful leadership as well.
But I tremendously enjoyed that part of it and always had a sense that you were supporting our School in both publicly and privately. I was just wondering as I look out on this effectively new campus that will be delivered to us in a couple of months time, what do you think about the Divinity School and its role at Harvard or its role in the wider world? Or what you would like to see us do? Or what do you think the significance of the Divinity School in University like Harvard is? I'd love to hear your reflections on that.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, David, the One Harvard part of it is central in the following way. I see the Divinity School as lifting our sights to think about the bigger questions, not how is X or Y piece of knowledge or piece of learning or degree going to advance me in the immediate term. But how does all this contribute to the larger questions which are about our fundamental humanity and the kind of world we want to have?
And so that element of spirituality of the big picture of what is life mean, it seems to me, the Divinity School embodies that. And the relationships you have with other schools represent that. The notion of Religion and Public Life in collaborations with the business school, how do we have economic growth and economic activity that also is ethical in principle.
The relationships, of course, with the medical school where questions of life and death are central to their concerns as they are to yours. So you interject, inject a kind of perspective on what goes on in every part of this University. That, seems to me invaluable. And I can't tell you how excited I am to see Swartz Hall when it's finished. And you sent me some wonderful photographs.
But that seems to me to represent the embodiment of your purpose of a place that you come together as a community and hash out the values that inspire you. And one of the wonderful things about the Divinity School at Harvard is it's so multifaith and international in its commitments that it's a kind of a force for peace and harmony and comity with a T all unto itself. So that, for me, is an essential part of what you do and what Harvard needs to have done.
DAVID HEMPTON: Drew, thank you so much. It sounds like you've just auditioned to become the next Dean of the Divinity School. So get that memoir written as soon as possible.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: OK.
DAVID HEMPTON: But Drew, just so much enjoyed the conversation as I always do. I'm sorry that it's on Zoom and not in person. But I'm so appreciative of your time and your insights and just your humane leadership that you've exercised at Harvard, both as Dean at Radcliffe and as President. So I think, my time is up. And I've got to yield the floor to the questions. So, Lori, over to you. And thanks again so much.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Thank you, David. It's really fun to talk.
LORI STEVENS: Thank you both. I was just sitting here wishing the two of you could run the world. It would have been a much better place. The first question-- actually, David, could involve some reflections from you as well. It's a thoughtful question from Bjorn Sorenson, who's the Chair of the Alumni/Alumnae Council.
And he said, on this occasion of the Friend of the School Award, he'd welcome both of you, Dean Hempton and President Faust, to reflect on your experience of friendship, at a personal level and at an institutional level. And do you think differently of friendship in our pandemic?
DAVID HEMPTON: Oh, wow. That's a great question. I just finished reading Sherry Turkle's book. She's an MIT Director of the Technology in the self project where she was really reflecting on artificial intelligence and gadgets from computers to smartphones and everything in between. And what it's done to our relationships and our ability to extend empathy and more in personal friendship.
And it made me think about-- and she thinks these things have gotten worse during the pandemic. And her book is really a plea for empathy and for humanity and for in-person relationships, deep relationships. And I do think certainly, as one who gets a bit older, as I was reflecting on friendship and family and on connection with people has become really, really even more important.
And one thing I will just say about Harvard and then allowed to just speak is that I was surprised, when I became Dean, how deep the friendships I forged with other deans and with other leaders of Harvard through the fray of leading. Some bad moments and good moments, some challenging moments.
But I look back on that and that group of deans and the ones that are still there, as more than just colleagues, I do look upon those people as friends. And friendship forged in a common purpose, trying to achieve something really important. So those would be a few reflections.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: So, David, I love your comment about the friendship with the deans. Because I remember when I told you, I was trying to recruit you and convince you to be Dean of the Divinity School. And I said, and yeah, have this wonderful dean's group, and you'll find them so supportive. And you've told me, sis, you thought the last thing you needed was to have to interact with a whole bunch of deans.
So, I'm glad it worked out well. I would take something of the same angle you did on friendship, which is sort of talked about looking back at my life. And I've been thinking about friendship from the point of becoming old recently. As I have reached out to people from my past and found these lingering bonds even with people that I haven't seen for half a century.
Yesterday, I had an hour-long Zoom conversation with a woman who I spent the summer of 1964 with doing civil rights work in the South. We had not spoken since then. And she remembered me as a 16-year-old. She was-- we had affected each other's lives. We've, in some ways, shaped each other. And now we could look back 50 years later and feel that connection even after such a distant time and such a long separation.
And I've also-- maybe it's the sense we're all in it together, the sense of aging. You all realize that your life has been shaped by other people. And you're so open to explore. I find to exploring that. My Bryn Mawr College class has a Listserv where people just write in with their problems, their troubles, whatever's on their mind. I write in things like what books did you read as a child? Or how did you feel about Sputnik?
Or did your mother tell you it was a man's world? We could share this kind of stuff in a way that's deeply rooted in remembering one another when we were idiot college students. And there's a lot of forgiveness that comes with that long a sense of connection, as well as a lot of indelible connection, I guess, I'm going to call it. So that's a kind of perspective on friendship from advancing age.
LORI STEVENS: That's a perfect segue to the next question, which is from Orlie Perillo. And she said to you, Drew Faust, growing up, who inspired you to move beyond the limitations that were set before you? And what did they say?
DREW GILPIN FAUST: So I thought a lot as I was mapping out this book about role models and who were my role models. And basically there weren't any. There were no women that I knew when I was growing up who worked outside the home and did things that I could aspire to. And so I've written a chapter in this book about books I read and role models in books for me.
And the chapter begins with the consideration of Nancy Drew, who as you know solves mysteries and was unconquerable and inspired Sonia Sotomayor and Hillary Clinton and everybody else you can think of has spoken of the importance of Nancy Drew. And then a second inspiration for me was Anne Frank, whose diary I came across just by chance when I was about 10, I think.
And her courage and her self reflection and the fact that she was positioned against evil in a world where good and evil were battling. She was really an important force in how I thought about what it meant to be a human being. And then the third one that I write about is Scout and To Kill a Mockingbird. And how she just sort through so many of adults pretensions and hypocrisies in a really clear sighted way around issues of race, in particular.
And so I write about these three literary role models because I can't think of human ones until I got into high school and college when I went to girls schools and there were some powerful women on the faculties and leading those schools. But as a young child, it was really more about what I read than what I saw around me.
LORI STEVENS: Thank you. Next question. Can you reflect on what kind of changes should be made in curriculum to equip students, particularly graduate students, in an understanding of how race and racism is embedded in institutions and professions, from education to public policy to health?
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, I think, history. We need to study the history of race in this country. The variety of ways in which it has been structurally embedded in our country. The complexity of attitudes, the kinds of choices or lack of choices people had along the way to break out of those constraints. I think history and human-- and I would add to that, of course, literature.
I mean, if you think about somebody like Toni Morrison reflecting on our history that only enormously enriches our understanding of the structures of the past. So the humanities, history and humanities, and a rigorous and unflinching attention to our past.
LORI STEVENS: Thank you. I think this will be our last question. This question starts with just an appreciation for all that you did to improve and unify common spaces across Harvard, spaces for gathering and connection. And we were actually talking about this in the presessions. And, Drew, reflections on this. The pandemic has forced us to leave those spaces for a time, but we're starting to come back together.
And we welcome both of your comments on this. The question does-- it's from Michael Getz, who used to be on our team leading Alumni Relations. And what are your thoughts on the importance of these spaces for post pandemic higher education? Has the pandemic changed higher education or Harvard in terms of being present in person and gathering? What we still gather value-- we still value gathering as we once did.
DREW GILPIN FAUST: Well, I was so thrilled when the Smith Campus Center opened soon after I ended my presidency. And I walked in. At first I was, open during the summer, and I'd been away. And I came in-- I don't know-- late August. And it was just as if it had been there 100 years. It was just packed with people, and everyone was talking and wandering around and drinking coffee.
And it's as if a swarm had inhabited the space the minute the door opened. And it made me feel so wonderful because it was what I'd hoped for in the creation of that space and the many other common spaces where these talented people, that I talked about earlier, can bump into each other and share their talents in ways that they don't program out as, now I'll take this class, then we'll get this degree.
So I think spaces are such important parts of the informality, as well as the formality of our interactions and our education of one another. There are things that will change about higher education because of the pandemic and how good we all are on Zoom now and what we imagine we can do. We can bring guests easily.
We can share the screen and travel to the Louvre or in a class and things like that. But I think we also realize that we've been starved of the kind of informal interaction and coming together that these spaces enable and encourage. And Swartz Hall is going to be one of these. It's going to be a new one that will help, I think, with the transition back to in-person contact.
And I just hope that it doesn't take too long that we don't have to be masked and distanced and so forth for a really long-- or the people feel too afraid to come out from behind their masks and sit in the Smith Campus Center or in Swartz Hall and chat with someone. We'll see. I do think it's essential to being who we most want to be as a human race, as a higher educational institution.
LORI STEVENS: I invite Sahar to come back. She'll share closing remarks. But David, anything else you want to say about gathering before we depart today?
DAVID HEMPTON: Maybe just one final observation that-- Diane and I often share this joke when we go through Harvard Yard. We tend to go through and see all the chairs, the seats out on the grass, and the students coming and doing their thing and so on. I've spent some time in my life at Oxford and a little bit at Cambridge. And there, the quadrangles have grass which Harvard can never aspire to perfection.
That billiard table like-- but, of course, it's full of big signs and do not step on the grass. So no one's allowed on this grass, and it's essentially a showpiece at the center of the college clubs. And it is beautiful to look at. But no one really gets a chance to enjoy it. And one of the things that I often said to Ron and said to him, Harvard will never do better than Oxford and Cambridge in cultivating lawns. But it's certainly worth it to see some of people out there having fun on the grass.
LORI STEVENS: Thanks, David.
SAHAR SHAHID: On behalf of my colleagues on the Alumni Council, thank you so much to Dean Hempton and President Emerita Faust for your inspiring words and genuine presence here today. And thank you again to our wonderful audience for your thoughtful questions and participation in today's discussion. I hope you'll all continue to stay connected with HDS by checking out our website and following Harvard Divinity School on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We look forward to connecting with you. Thank you.