Sarah Whiting and K. Michael Hays: A Conversation

Dear Alumni of the GSD,

When I began my position as dean of the GSD this July, I shared with you how thrilled I was to be joining the School in this role. That sense of adventure, coupled with responsibility, has only grown with time. Thank you for your support and engagement in my first months in this role.

When I met with students at the start of the academic year, I told them that one of the qualities that distinguishes the GSD is our remarkable density of heterogeneity. The many differences among us are one of our greatest assets, as we can learn so much from one another, but it is also important to remember that we are all so very different. As I am sure you have learned through your own varied experiences, it is crucial to take time to ask questions and listen to the views of friends, classmates, and colleagues.

I count you, our alumni, as an important piece of our collegial community. No matter your field or your GSD experience, you provide a valuable perspective into our School’s past and future. You have the unique opportunity—as someone who walked the same path as our students—to contribute to our collective conversation. We welcome your thoughts and presence here on campus and at our community events. The impact you can have on our students—whether it is a friendly networking conversation, attendance at a GSD event, or studio review—is enormous. I appreciate you devoting your time, energy, and resources to helping our designers of the future as they navigate their studies and careers.

Pursuing a graduate degree in the design disciplines can sometimes be a challenging endeavor. To empower students to thrive and contribute to the future of our disciplines, I believe in fostering an environment of empathy, respect, humor, and constructive criticism.

This last point—constructive criticism—is particularly important to me: it is so extraordinary that we enable design students to join experts like yourselves in a conversation about design. It is our obligation to teach students how to join this conversation confidently and productively. We learn as much from each other as we do from the work we produce, especially when we engage in a dialogue that puts connection and trust at the forefront. All of us are responsible for cultivating such a culture of empathy.

What I have learned in my first weeks and months as dean is that this position involves a good deal of active listening and learning; please know that I am here to listen to you. I look forward to building relationships and connecting with you in the years to come.

Over the coming year, I will be traveling to New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and I hope to meet and hear from alumni in the course of my travels.

Kind Regards,

Sarah M. Whiting

Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture

Harvard University Graduate School of Design