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Chaplains Discuss Being a ‘Good Neighbor’ at Harvard Dialogues Panel

Campus Rabbi Getzel Davis addresses a crowd at a Shabbat table installation in Harvard Yard.
Campus Rabbi Getzel Davis addresses a crowd at a Shabbat table installation in Harvard Yard. By Frank S. Zhou
By Caroline K. Hsu, Crimson Staff Writer

Five Harvard chaplains discussed the importance of dialogue and listening to opposing viewpoints amid ongoing tensions on campus in the wake of violence in the Middle East at a Tuesday panel.

The panel, titled “What it Means to Be a Good Neighbor,” was held at the Smith Campus Center as part of Harvard Dialogues, a University-wide initiative to promote the “ability to engage in respectful and robust debate.” The series — which includes workshops and discussions for Harvard affiliates — began last Friday and will run through the end of this week.

During the panel, which was hosted by the Harvard Chaplains and the University Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Campus Rabbi Getzel Davis said Jewish Harvard affiliates are “deeply traumatized and concerned about what happened on Oct. 7.”

“There’s been just wave after wave after wave of traumatizing activity on campus, which just has made it very difficult for folks to lay down their grief,” he added.

Some Christian Impact students have felt “guilty” and “stuck,” according to Tammy McLeod, president of the Harvard Chaplains.

“They don’t know what they can do, what role can they play in this,” McLeod said.

Harvard Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri A. Charleston called ongoing campus tensions a “moment of polarization,” adding that feelings of grief on campus can hamper exchange of dialogue among peers.

“In moments like this, it’s often appealing, if you will, to go to our separate corners — to not be in dialogue with others,” Charleston said.

Imam Dr. Khalil Abdur-Rashid, the University Muslim Chaplain, said some Muslim students who have felt “targeted” despite having no relation to the conflict are “searching for ways to be recognized and to be supported and uplifted and at least understood and heard.”

He said that students needed opportunities to participate in “lectures and discussions, debates, presentations, and forums for talking through and listening to both sides” and “see varied reactions to conflict.”

Panelists also discussed their ideas of a “good neighbor,” with McLeod noting the importance of engaging with others’ emotions.

“The biggest point in listening, I think, is to seek to understand, and so we have to put our own concerns on hold temporarily and be able to be fully present with the person to validate their pain to hear what they’re going through,” McLeod said.

Harvard Divinity School Professor Matthew Ichihashi Potts discussed the importance of a willingness to listen in being a “good neighbor.”

“You have to sit with someone and listen to their pain, hear the depth of their trauma if there’s going to be any chance of moving forward,” he said.

Abdur-Rashid voiced a similar focus on the role of listening.

“We live in a context where we love to be heard, but to listen to somebody else’s pain takes quite a bit of generosity and beauty and character — and love too,” Abdur-Rashid said.

Correction: January 24, 2024, at 12:45 p.m.

A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Tammy McLeod as saying that Palestinian Christians on campus have felt “guilty” and “stuck.” In fact, McLeod said that some Christian Impact students have felt “guilty” and “stuck.”

—Staff writer Caroline K. Hsu can be reached at Follow her on X @CarolineHsu_.

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