Harvard to Remove Line Referencing ‘Puritans’ from Alma Mater

ashley.rae | April 11, 2017
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Harvard University is striking the word “Puritans” from its alma mater as part of the school’s new push to create a more “inclusive environment.”

The Harvard Crimson reports the school’s Presidential Task Force for Inclusion and Belonging, which was created by Harvard President Drew G. Faust, announced the university will be holding a contest to change the last line of the alma mater, “Fair Harvard.”

"Fair Harvard,” which has been sang at commencement since 1838, contains a reportedly controversial reference to the “stock of the Puritans”:

Fair Harvard! we join in thy Jubilee throng,

And with blessings surrender thee o’er

By these Festival-rites, from the Age that is past,

To the Age that is waiting before.

O Relic and Type of our ancestors’ worth,

That hast long kept their memory warm,

First flow’r of their wilderness! Star of their night!

Calm rising thro' change and throv storm.

 

Farewell! be thy destinies onward and bright!

To thy children the lesson still give,

With freedom to think, and with patience to bear,

And for Right ever bravely to live.

Let not moss-covered Error moor thee at its side,

As the world on Truth’s current glides by,

Be the herald of Light, and the bearer of Love,

Till the stock of the Puritans die.

Harvard English professor Stephen Burt, who will be judging the submissions, told the New York Times the last line is problematic because people may interpret it as meaning “Harvard’s power and glory will last as long as but no longer” than the “bloodline of the descendants of the Puritans.”

“That’s obviously not a message we want to send,” Burt said, suggesting the line could be viewed as being “complicit with racism.”

On the contest submission page, members of the Harvard community are encouraged to update the song “for the 21st century.”

The page notes that Harvard changed “Fair Harvard” in 1998 to be “more gender-inclusive.”

“The inspiration is ‘Hamilton,” the submission page adds. “The point is to use your imagination.”

While the Presidential Task Force for Inclusion and Belonging believes the change will make a difference, Harvard students are less convinced.

The Crimson editorial board writes the change does not get to the core issue of inclusivity:

This is not the first time inclusion has been used as a reason to revise the alma mater; in 1998, the first line was changed to be gender-neutral. In this case, however, as anachronistic as the lyric may seem, this adjustment does very little to address the real concerns many students have about belonging at Harvard. We fail to see how this proposed change will be significant to the mission of the Task Force and the University at large.

Many students were not even aware of the song.

Student Anna Mazur told the Crimson, “People don’t really know about it.”

Jonathan S. Robert said, “It feels very contradictory. It’s very hard to believe that the College cares more than nominally about inclusivity and belonging on campus when we’re rejecting a first-gen program. Changing the name of a song does very little to impact my experience here.”

Emily Hall added, “I think that Harvard has so many more important things that it could be focusing its resources on, I’m not sure why it has decided that this is so important.”

The Presidential Task Force for Diversity and Belonging is charged with making the school a place for people with “varied backgrounds, cultures, races, identities, life experiences, perspectives, beliefs, and values.”

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