Harvard Kennedy School students Elizabeth M. Paci and Alexander White stood at the center of the Harvard Kennedy School courtyard early Monday morning armed with 8 wooden rods and forty binders.
“We don’t have permission to do this,” White said with a grin, hammering a wooden rod into the ground and stacking three binders around it.
Paci and White, who worked with fellow Kennedy School students Blake Hyatt and Helena V. Pylvainen, said they put up an “artistic” binder display just outside their school’s main entrance to call for a diversification of Kennedy School faculty.
The students wrote phrases such as “at least Romney had binders” and “take responsibility for faculty diversity” on the binders. They also wrote the the words “queer,” “Latino,” and “black” to identify other underrepresented populations in the faculty.
“There’s a spectrum of different kinds of protests, many of which have a lot of big demands,” Paci said. “But this is a lot more spontaneous and free-spirited, and we meant for it to get people to talk about the issue.”
The idea for the binder protest played on a moment from last week’s second presidential debate, when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney used the phrase “binders full of women” in describing his record of hiring women as a Massachusetts governor.
The infamous phrase has since spread to blogs, anti-Romney campaigns, and now, to HKS. Paci said that once they heard it, they knew they had to use it.
White added that while it was “funny that Mitt Romney is being criticized for this, the HKS record is even worse.”
“We should laugh about it, but at the same time we should recognize that this is happening in our own backyard,” he said.
Ideas to use Romney’s slip-up for what Paci said was a more “productive cause” surfaced at a diversity mixer hosted last week by the Kennedy School Diversity Committee, a faculty-student group. There, the four students began planning what they called the “binder protest”. All of them are also involved with the Progressive Caucus at the Kennedy School.
According to the 2011 Annual Report released by the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity, only 27% of Kennedy School junior faculty members, and 19% of senior faculty members, were women. In addition, the report revealed that Latino professors made up only 4% of Kennedy School junior faculty members and 3% of senior faculty members. At the time, there were no black professors at the Kennedy School.
“That’s pretty horrible,” Paci said. “If the Kennedy school is a pipeline to government or a world leadership position, we need to have women in that pipeline.”
In response to the protest, Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 wrote in an email to The Crimson that they’ve doubled the number of tenured women faculty during his deanship.
“We support our students advocating on behalf of causes that are important to the HKS community–particularly on issues as essential as diversity,” he wrote.
“While we have made progress in recent years, there is much more work to be done, and we look forward to working with our students and other members of the Kennedy School community on this important issue,” he wrote.
The students who organized this “binder protest” said that they acknowledged the display’s limited impact.
“This isn’t a silver bullet,” White said. “I don’t expect the dean to wake up and say, ‘Oh, we need more females! That’s the ticket!’ But it achieved the goal that we wanted it to achieve, which was to restart the discussion.”
—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.