Just days after student leaders from the black and Latino communities came together to host a town hall to discuss race relations at Harvard, Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister and his incoming successor Rakesh Khurana announced the creation of a working group to consider student support and inclusion.
The working group will be composed of students, faculty, and staff members and will “examine how we can better support the needs of all our students, especially those who don't feel a full sense of inclusion at Harvard,” according to an email from the two administrators sent to undergraduates Monday. They added that a town hall in the fall semester could be a platform to address the issue.
The email—sent with the subject line “Community”—arrived in students’ inboxes following weeks of high-profile discussion about race relations at Harvard. The social media campaign and theater production “I, Too, Am Harvard” in February and March highlighted the experiences of black students at Harvard and made national headlines.
In early March, Latino students also held a town hall meeting and expressed frustration at their perceived lack of institutional support at the College. Student leaders from the black and Latino communities have since come together to further the conversation about institutional support for minority students at Harvard, co-hosting a town hall on March 27.
In recent weeks, students from across the College have called for administrators to respond to the conversation. “I, Too, Am Harvard” student leaders met with Pfister and Khurana on Friday, and according to a joint statement from the campaign and production team released Monday, the students, among other demands, asked Pfister and Khurana to circulate a letter “affirming the presence and value of students of color on Harvard’s campus” by Monday, the day the two administrators sent their email.
In the email, Pfister and Khurana—who is also a co-House master in Cabot House—referenced the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign and the Latino students’ town hall and wrote to students that “every one of you has a well-earned place at Harvard.” They added that the recent conversation has “highlighted similar experiences shared amongst you—feelings of not belonging and feelings of having to justify your place at Harvard.”
Pfister and Khurana further wrote in the email that change at Harvard requires the cooperation of both students and the College administration. Pfister and Khurana wrote that as administrators they can “issue statements and set policies,” but that student leadership is also necessary to “truly effect change.”
Kimiko M. Matsuda-Lawrence ’16, writer and director of “I, Too, Am Harvard,” said in an interview Monday evening that the campaign and production team would like to see a timeline for “tangible, structural changes” to support students of color on campus. She said the “I, Too, Am Harvard” team’s main concern with the working group is that it may be vague in its goals.
“We support the idea of a working group, but only under the condition that it would have deliverable outcomes and timelines, and that it would be formed for the specific purpose of researching and implementing specific, proposed ideas, rather than just to merely evaluate what we’re doing wrong, what we’re doing right, what we could be doing,” Matsuda-Lawrence said.
Leaders of the campaign brought two additional demands to administrators at their meeting Friday, according to Matsuda-Lawrence—the creation of a pre-orientation program on race and identity issues and a multicultural student center.
Matsuda-Lawrence added that she and the “I, Too, Am Harvard” team are “extremely excited” about Pfister and Khurana’s letter to students. University President Drew G. Faust has also reached out to the group, according to Matsuda-Lawrence.
—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.
—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.