FDO Runs Sensitivity Training in Place of Pledge

The Freshman Dean’s Office set aside the controversial freshman pledge this year, opting instead for additional programming for the class of 2016 during Opening Days that focused on developing empathy and respect for classmates.

This year, proctors were trained to foster discussion about community values, and freshmen performed skits depicting sensitive situations with roommates and friends.

“We did not have [freshmen] sign pledges, but we pushed every bit as hard on how important it was to consider their growth on all fronts,” said Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67.

The pledge drew criticism soon after its inception, when former Dean of the college Harry R. Lewis ‘68 disparaged the practice in a blog post.

In October 2011, administrators reaffirmed their decision to make Harvard’s values clear to freshmen, even if that message did not take the form of a pledge. According to Dingman, this led to changes in proctor training that focused on helping students grow as “understanding, empathetic people,” as well as helping them excel academically.

“When I talked to the proctors, I said I felt it’s not enough for our students to be smart or ambitious,” Dingman said. “That counts, of course, but so does the ability to be empathetic and respectful.”

The scenarios presented to proctors—which were later re-enacted by students—focused on scenes that Dingman described as having “potential for insensitivity.” Examples included a religious roommate choosing to display a cross in a common area and a wealthy roommate purchasing a large TV that other roommates cannot afford to chip in for.

“This happens every year, frankly,” Dingman said of the latter scenario. “This way, students learn how to have a conversation where someone doesn’t feel marginalized.”

These exercises were well-received among members of the class of 2016. Isaac G. Inkeles ’16, said he was particularly struck by a scenario that depicted use of the amnesty policy. “The lessons were effective because they were creative, fun, and lively,” Inkeles said.

The changes were also praised by proctors.

“It seemed that proctor orientation had added emphasis on identifying and fostering values to create a strong, successful residential and academic community,” said proctor Brooks Lambert-Sluder. “In turn, that led to more emphasis on these values of respect and community during the first entryway meetings.”

In addition to the scenarios, proctors were provided with a list of goals for their students, including honoring diversity, recognizing the value of honesty, and being aware of unhealthy competition.

Though Dingman acknowledged that these values had relevancy to the high-profile Government 1310: “Intro to Congress” cheating incident that transpired last spring, he said that the new programming was not created in reaction to that event, as it had been planned in advance.

—Staff writer Petey E. Menz can be reached at menz@college.harvard.edu.

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