Our Responsibilities: A Message from Martha Whitehead

Dear Harvard Library colleagues,

Many leaders have sent thoughtful messages to their communities about the tragic events of the past week⁠—the death of George Floyd and the ensuing wave of despair. I want to reach out to you, and at the same time I’ve wondered what I can possibly say, as a white person with all the privileges that come with the color of my skin. I know I cannot begin to feel the pain of my friends and colleagues of color, not just in the stories of George Floyd and others before him, but in the all too common moments of belittlement and threat they experience in their everyday lives. All I can do is feel the outrage of an ally and take actions that matter.

By now, you all know the distressing details, and have read commentaries far more cogent than anything I can offer. I would just like to share two thoughts.

First, as helpless as we feel in the face of such enormous societal problems, we can help as a memory organization facilitating learning and research. We have a responsibility to document the persisting injustices of our current time, and to surface the stories of the past that are not yet told, all with the hope of a better future.

Second, as a community, we have a responsibility to each other. At Harvard Library we have a long way to go to become the diverse, inclusive organization we aspire to be, but I take heart in the drive and compassion I see in the people responsible for our employees, our services, our collections and our spaces. I hope that each and every one of you in this organization feels the support of your colleagues and that this is where you belong.

We are in this together.


Martha Whitehead
Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian and Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University